What if our main intention in practice was of healing?
Let me ask you a question - when you step onto your mat to practice, what is it you are seeking? If we are really honest with ourselves, we are always seeking something, otherwise we wouldn’t step on to the mat in the first place. It may be physical - to be stronger, more mobile or to accomplish certain postures. It may be more mental - to calm the mind, to de-stress, or find a sense of peace. Or it may be more mysterious, to connect inwards, to return home in some way.
There are myriad expressions of yoga and countless reasons to practice, but it’s my belief that first and foremost, yoga is a modality of healing and balance. When we take this as our overarching approach it changes the way we practice - I believe for the better. Here’s why:
1 Preventing injury, promoting intelligent practice
If our orientation is one of healing, we are less likely to force or push ourselves into postures before the body is ready. Postures will come and go over the lifetime of your practice, there is no point in being attached to them, because inevitably one day, at a certain age, you will no longer be able to perform certain poses. Using the postures as tools for healing ensures a slow and steady approach that is sustainable physically in the long run - which ironically will probably mean you end up doing many of the postures you aspire to over time.
2 Slowing down and paying more attention
Yoga, as a practice of awareness, invites us to turn inwards and take stock of what is going on not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well. When practice becomes simply a physical performance - gymnastics or calisthenics - the real treasure of the practice is lost: cultivating mindful attention and seeing ourselves more clearly in the process.
3 Allows you to refine the fundamentals
With less pressure to perform or ‘achieve’ a posture as the primary goal, there is more room for nuance and subtlety. This means fundamental poses like down dog or triangle become complex and filled with vast riches and details to notice. As a happy bonus, what tends to happen when you do this is the more complex or demanding postures become much simpler.
4 Informs you how to not lose your practice when you are injured
Often we have high aspirations to a routine - I’m going to practice 6 days a week, or every morning at sunrise. But we burn out quickly. When we do encounter injury we give up because we can’t practice in the way we are used to. However, if you have spent time working with subtlety, depth, and modifications, you can take simple, gentle approaches and not lose your practice. Ultimately this approach teaches you how to maintain your practice and adapt it whether you are ill, injured, or when you reach your later years in life - yoga can continue to support and nourish you.
5 Extends the yoga beyond the mat towards healthier choices
Orienting towards healing and balance in the practice sets a mental paradigm that then guides the other choices in our life. If we view the yoga as a tool for balancing and healing, we will then make healthier choices off the mat. This idea then becomes a worldview and a way of living - constantly seeking balance, considering what may have taken us out of balance (lack of sleep, diet choices, stress, pushing too hard), so that we can then skillfully choose the right antidote rather than continuing to push us deeper into burnout and exhaustion.
This holiday season, when you step on to your mat set an intention before the practice to approach in a way that seeks to balance and heal. See how this changes your practices and how you feel afterwards - enjoy!
This article was written for us by our awesome Global Brand Warrior, International Yoga & Qigong Teacher and Writer, Soho-based James Rafael. For more information about James, click here