The organs of living bodies often accomplish more than one function. Our skin serves to block out pathogens, conserve water, create vitamin D, and provide elasticity for movement all at the same time Similarly, the practice of yoga accomplishes varied and seemingly unrelated feats. Yoga practice is a physical exercise, a reason to create space in the day to relax, and a mental refresher.
The thought of yoga as a grand multitasking mechanism may not be a comforting one for people who love the singular silence that it brings. However, if we can step back from our personal conceptions for a moment, the truth of yoga’s multifunctional nature can shine through. Yoga, much like a bodily organ, accomplishes more than one thing.
For me, yoga is mostly asana practice. It is also a tool for academic performance. I have heard that first practitioners of yoga were monks who used asana to prepare to sit for long hours in meditation. As a student, I feel very akin to a monk. But instead of staying seated for meditation, I prepare to sit alert for long hours in a classroom. Yoga’s role in my life has not remained the same, but transformed over time.
Once, it was a hobby. Next, it was a form of stress relief and a travel companion. Recently, yoga became part of my career. Today, it is still a job that has miraculously retained its stress-relieving properties. What it might be tomorrow, I can’t say. Yoga’s consistent presence in my life has been a complex and interesting one. That must be why yogis have enthusiasm that borders on dramatic when we talk about yoga: it has more than one function in life, and transforms with the practitioner.
Over time, yoga practice itself seems like an organ. Less and less, yoga is something that you “do”. More and more, it is something that you “are”. Yoga has a funny way of working itself into cultures, schedules, and daydreams, and with enough participation, into jobs and relationships. Links can be seen between yoga and therapy, yoga and poetry (Gita, anyone?) yoga and music, even yoga and food. Yes, food.
For an art and science that is so multidirectional, how can we categorize it? How can we put yoga into an easily labeled box?
We can’t. That’s the beauty of yoga. By practicing it, you allow time for working on multiple areas of your life all at once. Claims of mental clarity from yoga are familiar. But someone told me recently that yoga has made her kinder. My skeptical science mind said, “How?” But my yogi side piped up and insisted; “Of course it made her kinder. It’s fun! If fun can’t make someone kinder, what will?”
Categorizing limits us. Trying to put such a multifaceted activity into a box can get us into trouble. I have even found myself explaining yoga in drastically different ways depending on the day. To one person, I said yoga was, “To bring your body and your mind onto the same plane, allowing them to work together in harmony.” On another day, yoga was, “An effective exercise with relaxing qualities that can be done in a small space.” Today, if I were asked to summarize yoga in one word, I would not use its definition “to yoke”. I would say yoga’s word is “transformation”. Throughout our lives, we will play more than one role. That is the way yoga lives with us; as a tool of transformation that changes as we do. Yoga is the master multitasker. So if a parent or spouse sees you in Mountain pose doing “nothing”… insist that you are very busy indeed.