Developing Your Yoga Practice – How I Got Started

Gary yoga pose

My introduction to yoga came about five years ago when I went to a class at my local YMCA. Immediately I liked the stretching, as a runner, I had very tight hamstrings. Also as a runner, and I don’t know if all of you are the same, I have an overactive mind. So the sitting, counting of breaths, balance poses all helped to calm my mind.

I was learning to salsa dance at the same time. I was driving all over the city trying to find classes/partners/clubs etc. All that driving on top of an already busy commuting lifestyle was stressing me out!!! Though I didn’t quite realize it at the time.

So one night I went to a local yoga studio in San Pedro, and took a class. There I met my teacher, Rosie Good. Soon after, I began going to yoga classes instead of dance classes, and began to find some peace from my crazy life at the time. But more than anything, I began to feel comfortable in my own skin. And I began growing spiritually.

This to me is what we learn from yoga practice.

Yoga goes back centuries, certainly hundreds of years before Christ, and maybe much further than that. The first written record of yoga as a system was recorded by a scholar and teacher named Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra, written about the second century B.C.

Yoga is not a religion. Rather yoga is better viewed as a science of transformation. The transformation you will experience from your yoga practice is learning about and manifesting your true self. That true self according to the yogic texts is your spiritual self, the Atman. Because yoga is not a religion, it can be practiced by any religion, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. In fact, you will find, as you practice more and more yoga, that it deepens what religious faith that you have.

There are many different definitions of yoga but the one I love the most is Union. The very word “yoga” refers to this as the root “yuj” meaning unity or Yoke. We are always trying to unify in our practice, our goal is to get two or more things working together peacefully and elegantly.

That is why in our classes the teacher will constantly remind you to breathe and to move with your breath. This is an important point. Yoga is not just physical exercise. The poses, called Asanas, are only one of eight parts of the royal yoga path. In Los Angeles there are many teachers and schools and even the media likes to portray yoga as exercise. You can understand why when you see the bodies of Madonna, Jennifer Aniston, and Jennifer Lopez, all yoga practitioners. And while you will lose weight, gain muscle, and improve your body through yoga, this is not the goal.

The ancient texts all teach us that we should practice our yoga throughout our day. Not just on the mat or after a long run. And I have two simple exercises that will help you with that.

1. Set your intention. Before you do anything, wash the dishes, walk the dog, work on a computer, go for a run, take a second to set your intention. Take a deep breath or two, and ask yourself or God, what would you like to accomplish before you take the action. Then close your eyes, and visualize that manifesting. Examples of intentions could include: a clean kitchen, fresh air, having fun, writing a poem, or improving your arm swing (ChiRunning). Then keep that goal in mind as you do your action. Your mind will drift. You will get distracted. But just keep returning to your intention. Then do what it takes to finish the action. Don’t quit. Never give up. As Steve’s teacher tells him, “If you fall off the bike, just get back on”. So when we unify our intentions with our actions we are practicing yoga.

2. Tune into your breathing. Just take long slow deep breaths continuously throughout the day. Especially when you are doing exercise. And start to turn your mind’s attention to your breath instead of to all your mind waves (chitta vrittis). When we do this, we are practicing yoga. Yes, yoga can be that simple.

The poses are fantastic also. Patanjali also taught us that by calming our bodies through the poses, we calm our breath and our minds. Then we can sit quietly and observe who we really are.

So for this reason, be sure to attend a yoga class once a week. Look around, visit different studios and teachers, until you walk into an ashram (place of teaching) speak to the teacher, and immediately get a deep sense of love and belonging, and this is where you should learn and practice. Keep on looking you will find it.

Namaste
Gary

p.s. If you liked this post please do one of two things for me ok?

a. Go to one of Rosie Good’s classes at Yoga Bindu in San Pedro.

b. Please a comment saying “What does Yoga mean to You?”

comments

6 Responses to “Developing Your Yoga Practice – How I Got Started”

  1. Dianne Enciso on July 23rd, 2008

    WOW! I am left speechless for a moment after reading your story. Thank you Gary for what you share, what an inspiration. I had a “wow” moment reading your inspired writing on YOGA and with this clear explanation I will begin to truly practice and grow my meditation. Yoga is something like a rattle when shaken; people make noise about it but everyone hears it with their own ears. I always thought of yoga as the body being what brings the breath/mind to a calm and now I understand that it is all the opposite and yet importantly united. Your 2-step process is simplified to put right to work. Thanks again and God continue to Bless you and all those who cross your path.

  2. Gary on July 23rd, 2008

    Thank you Dianne for that nice comment.

    By sharing your appreciation with a teacher you are practicing one of the oldest yoga traditions there is…

    Love between teacher and student.

    Namaste

  3. yati on July 25th, 2008

    There is nothing wrong with “stretching” to improve oneself. What is very wrong, is exploiting, commercializing,stealing and misrepresenting Hatha yoga and Hinduism. Also, being ignorant as to what you are doing is dangerous in life of any undertaking. Please note that Patanjali, was a Saivite Hindu Guru teaching male,celibate students- presenting pre-established stages and practices within Hinduism (found earliest in the Vedas) for Kevala (liberation.) He was not inventing, but “codifying,’ in his own teaching style the established system of Yoga/Hinduism. The Yoga Sutras are considered one of six orthodox systems within Hinduism. The religion of Yoga/Hinduism are interchangeable terms and one does not exist without the other. One of the foundational teachings in the YS is to practice clear judgement (vitarka) and reasoning (vichara) by avoiding vikalpa (the delusion we enter when separating words and their meaning.) The definitions from scholarly sources below may get you started. I also, just as yourself, appreciate comments – especially based on facts and not opinion. Good – luck.
    Yati
    ~Sanskrit: The ancient language of the Hindus [Webster's] Note: all subsequent terms are Sanskrit (Skr.) and thus Hindu
    ~Aum/Om: The most sacred syllable in Hinduism [Oxford World Religions]
    ~yoga: Skr. “Hinduism” [Webster's]
    ~yoga: Oneness of Atmana and Brahman [Dict. of Skr. Names]
    ~yogi/yogini: (male/female) Hindu Ascetic [Oxford World Rel.]
    ~Atmana: Skr. Self/Spirit; Hinduism [Webster's]
    ~Brahman: Skr. Hindu Religion [Webster's]
    ~yoga: Skr. A Hindu discipline [Oxford Am. Dict.]
    ~ yoga: Skr. A system of Hindu religious philosophy [Thorndike Barnhardt]
    ~yoga: Skr. general term for spiritual disciplines in Hinduism [Columbia Encyclopedia]
    ~Swami: Skr.Title of respect of a (Hindu) Holy man or teacher. [Oxford World Religions]
    ~Guru: Skr. A teacher of wordly skills…more often of religious knowledge…liberation (Moksa). [Oxford World religions]
    ~Moksa: Release/liberation – the fourth and ultimate goal of Hinduism. [Oxf. World Religion]
    ~The first recorded evidence of the Skr. word “yoga” is found in the Vedas.
    ~Veda Skr. The most ancient sacred literature of the Hindus. [Webster's]
    ~Upanishads: Text in Hinduism which ends or completes the Vedic corpus (body of [Hindu] laws)

  4. yati on July 25th, 2008

    In refernce to my last comment,I apologize for some errors made in rushing. “Kaivalya” is liberation – from the Sanskrit root word “kevala,” meaning without qualities.
    “Vitarka” is reasoning and “vichara” is judgement.
    Yati

  5. Gary on July 30th, 2008

    Dear Yati,

    Thank you for the thoughtful response.

    I’m sure Patanjali like so many other religious leaders had a cult following…and probably largely taught the main ideas of the time…i.e. Hinduism.

    But there is no doubt the words he wrote down into the sutras became important liberating words for Hindus and/or Yogis for many years to come.

    And now even myself in San Pedro.

    And my teacher. And Wayne Dyer.

    God and the devil rest in all things. The yin and the yang.

    I like to focus on things that help to expand people’s thinking.

    My scholarly days of criticism came to end some while ago.

    Now I’m happier to be a little ignorant meanwhile helping scores of people get a little more peace and flexibility every week.

    Even if the promise of liberation is a little far fetched at time.

    We all need to believe in something.

    If you have some books or websites that would help our education please let us know.

    God Bless,

    Gary

  6. yati on August 2nd, 2008

    Dear Gary

    I’ll categorize responses to the issues you raised:

    “Thank you for the thoughtful response.”— There is doubt you genuinely feel the comments are ‘thoughtful’ as it may contradict your later “criticism” comment. Forgive me if wrong, but it sounds sarcastic.

    “I’m sure Patanjali like so many other religious leaders had a cult following…and probably largely taught the main ideas of the time…i.e. Hinduism.”— The YS are not “largely” Hinduism, it is solely Hinduism. So, if a (Hindu) Guru is credited for the YS, that many in the spurious yoga movement claim to abide by, why then do they uproot it from Hinduism and state that something obviously and factually is not a religion and certainly not Hinduism – where are the Yamas? Assuming you are not attaching a negative connotation to the word ‘cult’…perhaps ‘cult’ (a religious system,devotion to a person or thing) works as Patanjali was teaching his Sishyas (Skr.,{see above definition in prior post] disciple of a Guru) the only religion a Hindu Guru would teach…the religion of Yoga/Hinduism to the very serious (Hindu) student. What’s not clear?

    “But there is no doubt the worse he wrote down into the sutras became important liberating words for Hindus and/or Yogis for many years to come” — Unless you can disprove that Yoga/Hinduism are separate, it is “and” Yogis. A Yogi is a Hindu. Remember also, by definition, the YS are one of the recognized six philosophies within Hinduism and a yogi is a Hindu ascetic.

    “And now even myself in San Pedro.”— It is fine to be inspired by Hindu scriptures, but to uproot them, redefine them, commercialize them, misrepresent them and then mislead the religiously naive public, is quite terrible. That is why the new age yoga is reprehensible. Also, as you earlier site Patanjali, where does he write of yoga studios and fees, yoga teacher certificates, yoga mats, yoga wear, hot/Iyenger/ashtanga/nude/doggie/pre-natal, etc.Yogas? Where does he describe any more than three asanas along with their purpose?

    “And my teacher. And Wayne Dyer.” —I do not know your “teacher” but what I can gather from W.D.and the like, just supports my comment above – those who take and re-package beliefs of a religion for self promotion/profit, etc.and put them forth as their inspiration or as you put it…”liberating words.” The “thoughtful” recognize the old con game, and commit to a true religious path…the others throw money at the con artist and the con artist gets quite wealthy and maybe even famous. Monetary wealth is the antithesis of a true Yogi, Swami,Guru or any true religious/spiritual leader or teacher of a religion – what part of aparigraha(non-receiveng)is not clear.

    “God and the devil rest in all things. The yin and the yang”— Your comments on 7/25 make it clear you believe this “yoga” topic has nothing to do with religion…then why impose Monotheistic and Tao mystical,religious sayings? They are meant to convey the idea that there is simultaneously and inherently “good and evil” (Monotheism) or “duality” (Tao and also Hinduism) in all manifestation or form. Speaking of “form,” which we both are, or would not be having this conversation, that is a reminder of another new age cliche. Spirituality/Spirit is incorporeal (without body)…religion is the “form” we need to connect with that which has no form—we can not be ‘spiritual’ and not religious. The practice of Yoga is to connect or as you said 7/25, “yuj”/ yoke to the Atmana (individual soul) to in this case Brahman (soul source)– this is a basic Hindu tenet. It is one of the many unfounded contradictions to the often said silliness that…”yoga is not religion and fits into and improves any religion.” The Jews/Christians do not ‘yoke’ with Yahweh/Jesus – God is separate, it totally goes against their beliefs,detrimentally effecting their psyche, mental stability. No Rabbi or Priest would agree to the logical conclusion of that statement…that their religion is incomplete – how insulting.

    “I like to focus on things that help to expand people’s thinking.”— “Expand” backward or forward -new age yoga is the former – if sincere…do it ethically.Patanjali reminds his students that the obstacles must be removed for realizations.

    “My scholarly days of criticism came to end some while ago.”— Is criticism (faultfinding or judgmental analysis) of others in a serious matter,when defending one’s religion, unjust? How can you move towards “liberation” without first being established in clear thinking in daily activities.

    “Now I’m happier to be a little ignorant meanwhile helping scores of people get a little more peace and flexibility every week.”— That’s unfortunate for you and students. Patanjali made it clear to his Sisyhas in the YS, to follow the Hindu Yogas to yoke with the spirit, never letting go of critical thinking to reach Kaivala—moving back and forth from the deep kavaila state to that Enlightened state in Prakrti (manifest world.) Yogaswami of Sri Lanka, reiterated this…”Think, think, think, to a certainty, then go beyond thinking.” The cognitive dissonance and lack of “critical” thinking of new agers, again is oppositional to Hinduism and the YS. It is because people “look away” as long as they are comfortable, there is, was and will be discrimination, sexism, racism, etc.

    “Even if the promise of liberation is a little far fetched at time.”— Liberation is a difficult goal, taking many forms and reincarnations, as long as one follows the new age grosser illusion, that illusion draws them deeper and deeper into abyss, rather than up that religious/spiritual mountain, sooner rather than latter-choose.

    We all need to believe in something.”— Why believe in lies? What is your religion?

    If you have some books or websites that would help our education please let us know.”—Things can be shared, but as you know ultimately the individual does the hard work. By your comments, you still have not “worked” with the factual evidence of what you call Yoga (vikalpa), some of which was handed to you in earlier comments. To continue from there, try visiting…classicalyoga.org. On that site, there should be ethical ways to understand,teach and or study Yoga/Hinduism or we can discuss later. Thanks for showing an interest in Y/H and speaking your mind.

    “God Bless,”— There is no God (separate male creator) in Yoga/Hinduism…even Patanjali states that in YS. Is it apparent yet, as to the foolishness and self-harm that new age yoga brings all involved?

    Yati

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