Yesterday, I had a chat with my Italian friend about Yoga. The conversation was extremely interesting. Having lived for so long in the eastern part of the world, you seem to forget that some things are just way too elusive for people from other parts of the world to understand. It made me think for a while, about how much I really knew about Yoga, because I had to explain the concept of the practice, and what it is trying to achieve. I've found that I know nothing about it.
What is 'knowing'? I can tell you my experience, i.e., what I do, how I do it, and what doing it makes me feel, but what I cannot tell you, is the true concept of Yoga. Because that is left for each one of us to find out. I can go on for hours, telling you what asanas I do, what kind of experiences I'd encountered through practicing the asanas, and what my ultimate goal is in practicing Yoga. But do I really 'know' Yoga?
Every yogi/yogini is a pilgrim traveling towards their inner being. The truth is, there is no ultimate goal. Neither is there a final destination. It's an eternal progress of cleansing of your inner organs and spirituality. A true yogi/yogini would never hesitate to deny that they have reached an 'ultimate status' in Yoga. Because there is none.
As long as you are alive and breathing, your mind and body are constantly working, and accumulating pressure and stress. Usually, people tend to prefer activities that require more speed and movement to release their stress, but the truth is, a lot of times, as your heart rate increases, you become even more agitated. The stress is still there. It has only been removed from your concentration temporarily. The significance of Yoga, Taichi, and all different kinds of meditation, is in the way they help one fully 'remove' the pressure and stress, by reaching a peaceful and tranquil state of mind. The different asanas in Yoga sets out to achieve exactly just that. Through slow, but thorough, movements, the negative 'chi' is released out of your body, and new, fresh air flows in, cleansing your internal organs. It is not your external muscles that need building up, but your internal organs. Just because we cannot see them, it doesn't mean that they are less important. Quite on the contrary, it makes them even more important.
True, it varies from person to person. Aerobics might suit one person better than another. Swimming may be the perfect exercise for one person, but not another. I am not judging one exercise from another. What I am doing, rather, is trying to point out that Yoga is not a sport. You are not competing with anyone, not even yourself. Because by competing, it still exerts pressure unto your body and mind, and it does not help you in achieving total relaxation. What it actually does to you, is it slowly and gradually progresses beyond your limit. You might not be able to do one asana, but the next time you try, you might find that you can! Yoga does not teach you to 'set a goal' and say 'when' you must be able to do a certain asana. You move at your own pace. The change is gradual, but sometimes you might be able to experience sudden awakenings and become fully aware of what Yoga is doing to your body.
The world is full of dualities. There is black, and there is white. There is yin, and there is yang. They are opposites, yet they are also mutually dependent. This is the basis of, not just Yoga, but Taichi, and all sorts of meditation practices as well. You move, because you want to stabilize your mind. You stabilize your mind, so that you can progress more steadily in your movements. It is an interminable cycle in which you exist. The idea is abstract, but the concept is not elusive. The only secret to getting to know it, is to try it out for yourself.
We all know how to 'talk' about something, whether we truly understand it or not. The important thing is not whether we understand a concept or not, but rather, whether we can apply the concept into our daily lives. I often complain about how stressful I am, but deep down inside, I know that I am blessed with the basic knowledge of Yoga. In this way, I know that once I have survived the stress, I will be able to embrace the wonderful miracles that Yoga will bring into my life.
Having said that, despite 'knowing' what good Yoga can do to me, I am still often defeated by the stress of time and the desire to meet a certain standard. I still find ample excuses to get me out of doing Yoga all the time. Even those who are able to devote time to practice asanas every single day will never claim to 'know' anything about Yoga, why should I?