As I see it, the main goal of yoga is to achieve self-realization/enlightenment, which I just think is a fancy way of saying “to feel at peace.” Who doesn't like the idea of feeling at peace? What do I mean exactly by feeling at peace? Well, how about sitting in gridlock traffic, late for work, and turning up the tunes to dance around in the driver’s seat because there is nothing you can do about the situation, so you might as well just roll with it and enjoy the moment. Or perhaps the sense of peace you feel because you know how to talk yourself, or more accurately, breathe yourself down, from a blow out with your teenage son who just skipped school for the first time.
How does yoga create this peace? Slow, precise movements give us a chance to make new discoveries about ourselves.
Is your right hip more flexible than your left? Do you find it easier to balance of one foot over the other? Can you fearlessly bend your body backwards to reach the floor, or would you rather use your strength to push up from the ground into a backbend? Yoga gives us a chance to know ourselves, to see how we react in different situations, to discover where our perceived strengths and weaknesses are; it reconnects us with our bodies, and gives us “ah-ha” moments. When you begin to see things about your body, noticing the intricacies of how it is easier to straighten your left leg up toward the ceiling than the right while laying on your back, you begin to learn more and more about who you are; you begin to wonder why one movement is not like another; you make connections and see patterns; you remember things about your life and what lead you to this place; you try to find some balance. Then, you try to prove to yourself that you can accomplish this, if you feel like it, and sometimes if you don't, and you just want to hang out in child's pose for an hour in the peaceful energy of everyone around you moving, then that is cool too.
Yoga teaches you how to stay calm during stressful situations; the fourth time bending your knees slightly and sinking back into the “invisible chair” as you enter into Utkatasana (chair pose), only to have the instructor say, “sink your hips down as low as you are able,” as you hold the pose for an excruciating five breaths. You focus on your breathing, you push through.
That is the reason we move with the breath; it is the reason every teacher begins class by creating awareness of the natural rhythm of your breathing, and it is the reason we always tell you to stay connected to your breath throughout the practice. The breath will tell you when you have had too much, it will relax you when you need it to, and it will let you know when it is time to proceed.
Your heart rate may be elevated, but if your breath is calm, you are still in a state of peace.
And one day, you will find yourself in a situation, outside of yoga class. Whether you are upset, frustrated, angry, sad, or in anticipation; you will notice that you stopped breathing for a moment, and you will think to yourself, “breathe,” and you will close your eyes and find your flow. And just like that, you have learned to create a sense of peace for yourself.
Peace - Dana