I left Hornby mid-February for India via England and Wales to give my annual Yoga retreat in the Himalayan foothills. I had decided that this month’s Yoga column would be a compilation of replies to the question I would pose to those I met along the way, ’What is Yoga to you?’
My eldest grandson got the ball rolling. He offered up his take by defining Yoga as ‘calming’. He told me, ‘ Yoga gives breathing and meditation practices that are calming and when we are calm we feel better. My youngest fidgeted around with resistance and answered in two words, ‘it’s exercise’. En route to the Victoria airport my friend of 35 years explained to me that Yoga was a way of life that promoted focus and centering, and with that comes a refined ability to deal with stress, which enhances mental and physical health. In the departure lounge in Vancouver a young Indian woman on her way to Bombay to be with her dying mother told me with all assurance, ‘Yoga is for balancing the mind which promotes health in the body. It’s the lack of balance in our mind that creates all illnesses’.
The stylish British African Customs Officer in London was delightful when I turned his question to me on him. Your profession madam? I’m a Yoga teacher and artist. He lifted his gaze from the electronic light illuminating my passport and leaned closer toward me and whispered with an urgency, ‘tell me about Yoga’ which gave me the opportunity to pose my question. The robotical mayhem of travelers, airport officials, and long queues seemed to disappear and he said,’ I’m not sure how to define Yoga, but I think I need it! Our work here is increasingly stressful and I need to know how I might begin to learn more about Yoga to help with this issue? ‘We continued to chat about his options of having private or group sessions and time seemed no issue to him as we talked. I suggested that Yoga was fundamentally about awareness of the breath and this handsome man sat back and took a deep long breath. His shoulders relaxed and his smile grew wider as we finished up our conversation and I moved on. An overweight, middle aged Officer caught my eye as he was hurrying by and I mentioned things were good to have been able to have a meaningful conversation about Yoga while going through Customs! He stopped and turned toward me saying with a sigh, ‘Ahhh, Yoga…’, as though he was referring to a far off Shangri-La that everyone ought to visit, no passport required.
In London I’m told by my young friend I stay with that Yoga is about stretching and consciously bringing the mind ‘back into’ the body. A overly chatty woman I sat with on the train to Swansea, en route to her dying mother, expressed that Yoga is about meditation and while she’s never ‘done Yoga’ she assumes it might take her to the very precious meditative zone that music does, which she turns to when her life becomes too busy, too much. My dear old Aunt Minnie with dementia tells me that she thinks Yoga might be something that is slow and very lovely.
For me, the meaning of Yoga is ever evolving. It began as a fulfilling physical practice 30 years ago and today is central to the deep soulful healing of childhood trauma. Yoga inspires me every day to continue on this glorious path of personal transformation. What is Yoga to you?