Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why Yoga?

This blog is about yoga and professionals, about yoga and lawyers. But why yoga? What is so special about yoga? For the physical benefits, could we not just do stretching and walk? How is a yoga breath different than a regular breath? Is yoga a religion? These are questions I hear often, and of course they are valid. And the answer is much simpler than even I would have once imagined. 


Yup, just one word. Yoga is about bringing intention to our movements, our breath, and our actions. Many yoga classes, in my opinion the best ones, begin by setting an intention. The intention can be anything, from a desire to be more flexible, to a desire to have the strength to traverse difficult life events. But setting the intention sets the yoga practice apart from stretching and other forms of exercise. It is what we learn from setting this intention that allows us to take yoga off the mat. 

I do not like that phrase, "taking yoga off the mat." It automatically assumes that doing yoga anywhere, whether asana or pranayama or following the yamas and niyamas, is out of the ordinary. But if we start from the notion that yoga is about intention, it begins in our lives, and the mat is nothing more than a space where we are less likely to slip, literally and figuratively. As it is oft-noted, yoga is much easier in an ashram than it is on the streets of Phoenix or in a courtroom. 

But we can bring our intentions to every aspect of our lives, and we can bring our mats to any location. Today was a big day for me; it was the first time that I taught yoga to professionals in a meeting room. We moved a table, set up some mats, and did a practice. Even though most of us were on mats, it was not a traditional place for yoga. Nope, the rest of the day that room was filled with discussions about family law. But for 60 minutes, the intention was different. At the risk of stating the obvious, this was not a traditional yoga physicality, it was bringing yoga into the world, which we usually explain by taking yoga off the mat, but instead we used our mats in a new environment. I did not start this blog to write a blog; I started this blog to start a discussion about how yoga can help professionals, especially those in the legal field, but certainly not limited to them. Today's class was the first expression of that intention. 

What does intention mean to our everyday lives? Well, everything. We can bring intention to brushing our teeth the same way we can bring it to a legal argument, the same way we can bring it to an asana practice. When we start exploring our intention for our actions, we are forced to examine whether they are serving us or not. We are able to stop, even momentarily, and think. That is a luxury in this information-laden, nonstop culture. Where 140-character twitter updates dominate our lives, we can throw out random thoughts with little thought of their consequences. It is easy not to take people seriously with nonstop information.

I find, however, that when I bring intention to my actions and my words, people respond with more respect and understanding, even if we disagree. And I personally think it is because the people with whom we interact recognize our intention as a sign of respect. It is worth your time to stop and think before just shoving more information at them for no reason. Intention permeates our being and becomes a deep aspect of who we are. Intention to treat the opposing litigants with respect and dignity goes far in the law, and can often lead to agreements. Not always, I realize that. We cannot control how others react and/or respond to our actions. But we can control our intentions. And far more than the specific actions we take, our intentions shine through. They are reflected in the non-verbal aspects of our communication where most of our communication occurs.

And yes, we can learn this intention on the yoga mat. And yes, we can take it off the mat. But why draw the line? Each moment of our lives is deserving of intention, whatever that intention is, mat or no mat, yoga studio or conference center. When our intentions are pure (meaning not diluted, not pure vs. bad in some way), we tend to receive that which we need in life, whether it is a deeper forward fold or a trip to New Zealand. This idea of intention is, for me, what sets yoga apart from all other experiences and what allows it to be so useful in our daily lives. Because we can bring intention to every moment, we can do yoga at any moment. Intention is not about what religion you practice or how flexible you are; it is about living each moment with a purpose.

Namaste and Blessings!


  1. Yay for teaching! Your posts are always so thoughtful about yoga. I'm like, huh...yeah, that's why I do it!