What Makes Yoga "Yoga"
Someone recently reminded me of an old riddle. You'll probably have no problem figuring out the answer.

Q: What do we have all of in the world, yet always want more?  

A: Time

With just a little thought, we all know the answer to this. But that doesn't make it easy. In the same way, it's easy for us to know what we need to do with yoga, but the follow-through can be a challenge. Your yoga begins with giving your self the time to connect with you. Everything comes out of this. But it's not always easy. What's easy is continuing to do what we're already good at.

We've all spent plenty of time in our lives studying. Accumulating knowledge. We've likely also had some unwelcome practice in being made to feel like we don't know enough, or we aren't good enough. That if we just work a little harder to wrap our heads around this or that, then we can achieve what's been just outside our untrained grasp!  We have more than enough practice here. This kind of thinking is all around us. But as I keep hearing my wife Tara Stiles saying, "Who made those rules?"  They're extremely limiting.

Where we don't have so much practice is in connecting with our selves. Following our selves.  Understanding that we already have everything we need, right here. It's ours. Oneness is inside you already. You're it!

Intellectually we understand that following someone else is not it. But we're good at that, much better than we are at following our selves. If we can even hear our selves!  Learning another language, reading more books, head-scratching over what some old guy wanted you to do 3,000 years ago... all nice topics for study. And I'm at the pretty far end of this "amass more education" spectrum. I even learned two dead languages! But none of this is the yoga for you. It's just more external study, filling our heads, doing what we already do so well. Yoga for you is what you choose -- what you feel you need to go inside and connect, feel, be healthy, happy.

All of this is ours. It doesn't belong to somebody else. It isn't something complex, just beyond reach, that we need someone else to dole out to us. Like most things, yoga can be something we see on the outside, or something internal. It can be something we talk about, or something we feel. The intellectual pursuit of something isn't that something. Yoga is an experiential science. We can amass great stores of knowledge about yoga.  We can engage in yoga debates! But that's not yoga.  It's just practicing what we're already, as a culture, pretty good at. Arguing, intellectualizing.

It's easy for us to nod knowingly here. To agree that yoga isn't appearances. It's not talk. It's not intellectual understanding. It's not so much what we can see. But there are many of us truly obsessed yoga "practitioners" who are still engaged in both struggle and argument inside our heads.  If we're there today, if it's making us agitated, argumentative, aggressive...  probably we should go for a run! Give yoga another try when we're ready to come back to our own self.

The work is on the inside. In feeling and sensing our selves. Getting into our bodies, not attempting to throw them away and become disembodied heads. We're just one complete, whole being. Our minds, bodies, spirits -- they're all the same thing.  When we single out any one part to look at, we're seeing everything we are right there. This is a great thing about yoga. Our bodies are our minds are our spirits. Yoga gives us a great way to feel into what we are, and work on all of it, all at the same time. We get healthy, happy.  No argument needed!

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About the Author

Mike is a guide and resident healer at Strala Yoga in New York. Named “Best Mover” by MindBodyGreen and one of Shape Magazine’s Hottest Trainers, he’s practiced Eastern movement and healing techniques for more than three decades, including tai chi, qigong, and shiatsu.

In his younger years, Mike challenged centuries of reasonable and well-tested martial traditions in hundreds of competitions, by applying unruly imagination to a world where rules were unbreakable. As he got older, he happily become more interested in supporting bodies than disrupting them, and continued on to medical applications of the mind-body connection in university.

Mike studied mind-body medicine at Harvard, and alternative medicine and psychology at Oxford. After running into walls with standard medical practice in the U.S. and England, Mike left his healthcare roots. He worked at a steel mill for a while, joined a web company, and then founded a few more. He now serves on the board of Odyl, which helps people discover books on Facebook.

As Strala's co-founder, Mike has found his way back to health care done right: helping people let go of stress in their bodies and minds, become their own best caregivers, and live happy capable lives. Mike is a mountaineer, runner, cyclist, skier, and snowboarder. Check out Michael's MBG Video Course, The Complete Guide To Yoga.