Now more than ever, the western world is very aware of the external practices of yoga. Downward Dog and Warrior poses are etched into our psyche and synonymous with our visual idea of what yoga is.
However, that notion is the tip of the iceberg, as so many of the most powerful practices of yoga are the inner practices. The practices that stoke the inner flame of Awareness. In fact, those sorts of practices are far more important, rewarding and necessary in our evolution into more conscious human beings.
A person who can do a handstand while holding their legs wound over their head in lotus, but regularly hurls negative, self-degrading thoughts towards themselves and is in the habit of being quick to negatively judge others in the world, is not practicing yoga. If anything, they are cherry picking practices and strengthening the lower ego, making it hella-strong.
A person reclining in savasana or sitting in virasana and practicing conscious breath work while maintaining thoughts of loving-kindness or wide open curiosity, is deeply practicing yoga. It doesn't have to be a severely, complicated physical pose to count as yoga.
Know this, if you ever thought you couldn’t do yoga because you’re too stiff, not strong enough, overweight, etc. you’re identifying with what my teacher calls a mistake of the intellect.
If you can breathe, you can do yoga.
Yoga starts on the inside, by creating a space of curiosity and compassion within ourselves. It starts by accepting ourselves as we are, knowing that we can engage in this practice exactly as we are and meeting that with friendliness, curiosity and kindness, in order to create real wholeness, as opposed to being at war with yourself and meditating on what you don’t like about your self…
Here's some thoughts on how to bring meditation and other inner practices of yoga into your daily life and activities:
Bookend your day with the light of yoga. It can be a short and sweet practice, whatever you can reasonably fit into your schedule.
The Elements - Contemplate which do you feel disconnected from; what can you introduce to balance it out?
Earth - eat grounding foods, whole and unprocessed; learn self-massage practices; take a walk and practice being mindful; find some good soft grass and stand on it with bare feet; lay on the earth and relax; Dance!
Water - Take a soothing bath; listen to the sounds of the ocean; practice Tai Chi or Qi Gong; Dance!
Air - Practice pranayama, yogic breathing; Sing your heart out; Get creative by writing or creating some form of art or craftiness; Practice listening deeply to get expansive.
Fire - Exercise; Get in a sauna (if your physically healthy enough); Gaze at the flame of a candle (a yogic practice called tratak); Build a campfire.
Rituals - They create meaning and intention. It can be as simple as starting anything your doing with a conscious intention, like: "May I be in the best possible space with whatever I do". For example, when you're in the kitchen cooking, what if you imbued your prepping, cleaning, chopping, cooking, etc. with extra goodness by chanting a mantra while doing it and bringing all of your focus to exactly what you're doing? Being present. The food is enhanced with love or it's void of it. Sometimes we don't even realize while we're doing something like cooking or brushing our teeth or planting a garden, that if we're doing it while ruminating on negative memories or thoughts, we're imbuing ourselves with the wrong energy for wellbeing. We can change that channel!
Turn the volume up in your Consciousness! Practice chanting Om, out loud or soft like a whisper. Invite that sound to sweetly replace the noise of your thinking mind.
All of these examples can be forms of yoga if practiced consciously and with intention. When we turn back towards our Self, to our deepest inner heart, we connect and we are practicing yoga. As my teacher, Swami Jaya Devi says, "stop demanding that the world change and start demanding more from yourself." She says, if we take all the teachings we've ever learned and direct them back to our own hearts, we will ignite our evolution. We can not evolve by just trying to make our external world different. We can think of it like discovering an inner playground or a secret, inner laboratory. Go play and create, go experiment, but don't be afraid of failure. Be afraid of not trying.