How Yoga Works

Close your eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Feel your breath, feel your breath.

When I signed up for my first yoga class a month ago, I didn’t realize I was unknowingly committing to a whole new lifestyle.

Because despite the fitness world’s commercialization of it, yoga is a physical and mental practice that doesn’t stop after your one hour class, once you step away from from the studio and into “the real world.” Yes, it gets you moving and helps you relax, but the possibilities are awe-inspiring because of the way it can—and will—change your mindset. After beginning my own practice and upon a friend’s recommendation, reading How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach and Christie McNally, I am experiencing the beginnings of a personal transformation.

I’ll admit, however, the calmness fades away at times, and I succumb to negative emotions like stress and anger. There are days when I feel self-conscious about my progress, ‘Should I be doing more?’ ‘Why can’t I physically do more?’ And lying in savasana at the end of a practice, instead of resting, I sometimes stare at the ceiling and contemplate my doubts about whether it all really works.

How Yoga Works tackles those uncertainties, along with the general existential questions we often have but don’t take the time to answer. As the title suggests, the book tells you how yoga works, but inevitably also tells you how life works.

It won’t impress the literary critics out there, but How Yoga Works provides a compelling, transformational outlook on the world. It explains why a pen isn’t a pen by itself, why your back starts to hurt as you age, maybe even why your boss yelled at you this morning, but best of all, it tells you: “If we do something just to help ourselves, it will never work. You can never really put effort into a thing if it’s only for yourself. It has to be for something bigger” (20).

This story tells you about that sophisticated bigger picture in a simple way. For example, you perceive something in a particular way because of the seeds in your mind, which get planted because of the actions you take or the thoughts you have. So if you help the poor? Good seeds are planted in your mind, leading to better perception and more happiness for you. But if you secretly wish for another person’s failure? Bad seeds are planted in your mind, leading to negative perception and misery. Ah, the cyclical nature of karma. This book, and in extension yoga, also addresses the value of life, achieving a positive mindset, finding balance, and the importance of helping others find happiness and finding it for yourself.

But if all that sounds too idealistic for you, you should know, I was a skeptic at first too.

Recently, I found myself going through the motions of a busy life, not thinking—just doing. And that proved fatal because running on default mode, just doing without a purpose, isn’t fulfilling. Drowning in my distress and my woes, I decided to give yoga a try. I thought it would just be a relaxing pause in a hectic routine or a way to cope. I was wrong. It’s turned out to be so much more.

Yoga is about faith, not explicitly religious faith, but faith in the power of the human mind and body; and faith that despite all your troubles and worries, you will heal and you will go on.

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