What are you really after when you do yoga? This is a perennial question that many people may ask.
A lot of us who begin yoga are, at first, after the physical changes a regular yoga practice can provide you. This is a completely valid point and despite people thinking that yoga is about flexibility, it has something to do with that and yet it is so much more.
So where does this dichotomy leave us? Well, in my opinion, many of us are not connected to our bodies optimally. We exercise, move around, do all the things of life yet sometimes we push too hard, we may get stressed and this can lead to injuries.
Or, we are giving to everyone else and it is hard to find time to do things for yourself, let alone devote time to something like yoga.
Yoga postures are one aspect of bringing unity back to the body and a great starting point. We do the postures, or asanas, so that we can create a body that is free to move about our daily routines in the most efficient way possible.
By practising yoga, you gain better use of your limbs and body creating synchronicity throughout the body.
On one level, the asanas are about "stretching", but not to gain a range of motion that can defy gravity or our body's capabilities. They are practised so we learn to link and communicate with our bodies and do it in a way that creates sustainability and a stress-free lifestyle.
Yoga is not about "range of motion", but it is about strengthening and lengthening, done in a way that through time creates health and vitality throughout the body.
The physicality of the asanas is where a lot of people start their yoga journey. Fortunately, this is the start of the journey and not the end.
At the beginning, yoga is hard because it is new and different and maybe you are drawn to more vigorous practices or maybe more relaxing practices. Both are valid, but they only provide the starting point.
Once we have learnt to connect our bodies we can then start to expand our minds and learn that yoga is more than just physical postures. It clears the mind and gives you a way to burn stress and anxiety and find contentment - eventually.
It takes time to feel these effects and once your body feels better and heals itself, physically and mentally, you can tap into yoga's true essence. That is why there are so many different styles of yoga and ways to practise yoga; it provides freedom and confidence to change who you are and what you want to become.
This change is always going on with yoga postures, whether you are away of it or not, but through time and regular practice, you begin to be aware of all things changing in your body and mind.
Just like the body requires exercise to build strong and healthy muscles and bones, the mind needs to be exercised and strengthened.
This is where mindfulness or meditation comes into practice. Yoga teaches us to think about the present moment and what we are doing in the here and now, not what we've done or need to do.
A regular yoga practice can include doing physical postures to strengthen and challenge, relax and unwind or anything in-between. It will then slowly move to awareness of the mind and how you can live in a more peaceful state where you can sit still and focus on the present moment.
It sounds simple, and it is, it just takes a regular routine where you take the time to include yoga in your life.
The takeaway from all of this is that a regular, rigorous practice for the mind and body, over a long period of time, will result in bringing huge changes to your health, vitality, and helping you design the best life you are destined to live.
There is no age requirement, you are never too old or young to begin, you just have to start. See you on the mat!
* Tim Seutter is a firefighter, yoga teacher and manager at The Loft Studio, Whangarei.