The goal of Yoga is to quiet the mind so that one can more fully experience the present. It is a system of bodily and mental exercises which help to unite the individual self with the universal self. If this sounds too esoteric to you, then you are in very good company. Many people practice just the physical exercises and gain much from this. Others wish to learn more about the spiritual side of yoga, and this includes mental exercises of concentration and meditation. Fortunately, at Montgomery College, the Yoga course includes both sides of Yoga. The class meets in the Cafritz Art Center in the Silver Spring/Takoma Park campus.
Does anyone remember Richard Hittleman’s Yoga program or Lilias, of ’Lilias, Yoga and You’? These early TV programs introduced America to the physical exercises of Yoga, or asanas, as they are called. Yoga was not really accepted by the mainstream of persons in our society at that time. Even today, there are misconceptions about what Yoga is and how it can benefit the mind and the body. I have practiced Yoga on and off over the years, but decided this year was the one in which I would take a formal course and start a home practice.
The course at MoCo provides a good mix of the physical exercises, breathing techniques and discussion about Yoga itself, including the different types of Yoga, their history and their concepts. The philosophical part is very new to me but I like the way the teacher introduces each topic. For example, last week we focused on the seemingly contradictory concepts of control vs. letting go. From what I learned, control is about concentration and awareness, while letting go refers to releasing the tension that creates the illusion of the ego’s individuality and separateness. I confess that I don’t really understand this very well, but I’m pretty good at the physical exercises. Fortunately, I’ve always been flexible although I need to keep building strength and balance.
The class exercises and guided meditation are useful, but I struggle with maintaining a home practice, which is basically the commitment and discipline to practice Yoga on my own, every day. It has to become a habit. This habit could include the poses, breathing, relaxation and concentration/meditation exercises. The best all-around physical exercise is called the Sun Salutation, because it stretches the body in complementary ways and includes breathing. You also have to concentrate to complete the sequence. And if you do, the rewards are tremendous: you’ll feel better and your mind will be clearer! If you have never tried Yoga, I would encourage you to take a Yoga course and see for yourself why Yoga stands the test of time.