Unity + Presence + Flexibility + Activity = YOGA
Michalina Korzeniowska: What exactly is yoga? Can it be treated as a sport?
Justyna Połeć: Yoga is a form of physical activity which also affects the mind, mood, and thoughts. Because of yoga’s origins, I wouldn’t call it a sport. Traditionally it’s a philosophy of life. In modern Western culture yoga is understood as a physical exercise combined with relaxation and breathing techniques.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding yoga understood as a religion or a higher power cult. What is your response to that?
Yoga is nothing new, it’s not like the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The philosophy is hundreds years old, it developed alongside other systems of thinking. Its techniques have been adapted by other religions, such as Buddhism. Everyone has a right to their own beliefs. You don’t have to change or renounce your religion in order to practice yoga. On the contrary. Yoga develops spiritually and highlights the need to work on one’s mind. For me personally yoga, from a mental perspective, is a relaxing meditation which helps to get rid of negative thoughts and to become a better person on a daily basis.
YOGA - what are the key elements that you connect with the word?
Unity, which I understand as a connection between the body and the mind. What we think influences our body and how we control it. Yoga isn’t just physical exercise, it’s also mental exercise. It often happens that my thoughts drift away somewhere during practice and I always lose balance in the position. Presence is connected to unity. An active mind allows to better focus on practice and body activity, as well as to better work on progress. Flexibility reminds me that I have to make peace with certain things during practice. Some of the asanas are impossible for my body to perform, or depending on the day some things are easier to do than others. It’s all about giving in to here and now, without fastidious expectations. Activity, because thanks to yoga I’m more active during the day. Especially after the morning yoga I feel incredibly energised for the entire day. It works as well as coffee!
You mentioned asanas, what are they?
It’s one of the terms used in this activity - asanas are different body positions which we take during yoga practice. Each asana requires different muscles to work and brings different benefits to the organism. For each asana it’s important to coordinate movement, alignment of the body with breathing, and to focus on the correct body allignment.
So we do involve muscles after all. Then what is the difference between yoga and gym workout?
Training in a gym, using machines and weights puts additional strain on the body. That kind of workout usually serves to strengthen specific muscle groups. When I started practising yoga, the biggest surprise for me was how exhausting training with your own body mass alone can be. In order to perform some of the asanas you have to use a lot of strength and it’s usually one of the reasons why you can’t stand on your head straight away. This kind of training is holistic, rather than building girth it focuses on building strength and actual chance to use it. I won’t say that gym exercise is pointless. It strengthens and sculpts the muscles and the silhouette. But thanks to yoga I see what I can do with that strength.
What is the most difficult thing about yoga? What is the thing that each beginner has to face?
For me the hardest practice is in my head, I have to get rid of those thoughts which won’t let me focus on here and now. Feeling your body, stopping in a position for a time, or meditating at the end of class allows you to forget your worries, to understand that everybody has weaknesses. You can’t perform all of the position straight away and there’s nothing wrong with that. Yoga is learning about yourself, what you body can do; but also what your mind is going to say about it.
Is yoga a cure for the soul? What are the benefits of it?
Compared to other activities, yoga has a way of really calming you down. Thanks to yoga you find a friend in yourself, you start to feel your body, connect to it and know its limits. The pressure evaporates, it’s like with every breath you release all of the stress and grief. I always leave yoga class relaxed, even on a very stressful day. Yoga helps to calm down chaotic thoughts. When I was going through a difficult time in my life, the classes calmed me down and I was able to stay focused on my goals, and believe that everything was going in the right direction.
Yoga is not yet highly popularised, and the society is always cautious about everything that’s knew. Why is it worth a try?
Many people have a pre-conceived notion of what yoga is. Often times it turns out to be inaccurate. Yoga is not just relaxing and arm stands. I think, like with everything, you shouldn’t build an opinion based on speculation. You should try it for yourself before you make up your mind. Of course not all of us have to like yoga and enjoy it as much as I do. Accepting your current situation is the cure for worries. And that is what yoga teaches us. Sometimes it’ll be better, sometimes worse. That’s why it’s best to accept it and appreciate your own possibilities.
Interviewed by Michalina Korzeniowska.