How you practice yoga translates into how you live your life. The two are connected. The practice of yoga doesn’t always refer to the postures themselves, but rather everything else that goes into the postures (e.g. the mental strength, the need to have a connection to your breath, proper hydration and nutrition, the connection between your mind and body). What you need to work on in life often expresses itself on your mat during a yoga class. For example, if you are someone who pushes themselves too hard, injuring yourself in yoga as a result (e.g. a pulled muscle), you probably take on too much in life, put too much strain on yourself outside of the yoga studio. If you often give up during a class, tell yourself that this pose is “too hard” or that you are “too weak” you most likely defeat your own self in the outside world as well. Maybe you make excuses for why you can’t make it to the studio, putting everyone else’s needs before your own.
I recently finished the book "Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga" by Benjamin Lorr, which was all about the author’s immersion into the Bikram yoga world.
In "Hell Bent" Lorr describes a particular Bikram class he took. A large, linebacker-type man was taking a class for the first time and appeared to be suffering and wheezing, right before bolting for the door. The teacher, stops the linebacker before he is about to open the door and exit the studio and tells the man he’s free to go but has a choice. He explains that “Sometimes your yoga is in the postures. Today, your yoga is recognizing that you have a choice."
For the linebacker, his yoga that day was to simply recognize that he had a choice whether or not to leave the hot room. His yoga was to work on the mental aspect of the practice, because that was the issue that arose for him that day. The teacher explained to the class that even if they were doing the postures perfectly, if they weren’t “putting the same effort into it” they weren’t getting the benefits from the yoga.
Yoga means “union” in Sanskrit, isn’t necessarily about the postures, it’s this “union” between the mat and life, mind and body, you and the universe. It’s about doing “work”, and maybe your yoga for now is just to identify what your “work” should be, what issues you may need to work on. Maybe your yoga is to back off and let yourself sit out once in a while, or to stop comparing yourself to the other yogis in the room, or to become comfortable with the way your body looks in the mirror during class.
Benjamin Lorr explains that “It’s a funny thing that way. Someone standing and looking very impressive in the mirror and someone sitting hunched over doing almost nothing. Same yoga.”