A teaching in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali addresses the value and truth of experiencing things directly. The thread is about how words are not real unless they are connected to reality, something you can map to an actual experience you have had.

Every new year, because of annual intentions, I try to think of ways to convince my students that establishing and maintaining a yoga practice is worth every minute they spend doing it. As we go into 2018 with consciousness growing rapidly in ever-deeper ways, the idea of direct experience rings true for me.

When you start yoga, you become more aware by intentionally using the physical body, which includes the breath. You stimulate dormant parts of your body (the parts you've stopped feeling or never felt) and soothe and tone the overly active parts (usually groups of muscles, the mind, heart, and often the adrenals). You do this by standing around a lot and learning basic actions of the hips and shoulders. Through standing poses, we force steady (standing) action in to the body, which we then foster more of, by doing challenging and quieting poses that happen when you are seated, lying on the floor (belly or back), or pushing the hands into the floor, which turns them into feet (down dog is the most famous example of this action).

It's often overwhelming to start a yoga practice: You have get your schedule in order, you have to like the place you go, you have to feel good about both your teacher and your class, and you have to love how you feel when you leave the class. A lot of things have to line up for you to push forward with, say, 26 classes (twice a month) in any given year. This is, by the way, regular practice as the yoga industry defines it.

Putting -- sometimes forcing -- these many things in place is direct experience. You do yoga to change patterns, to follow more feelings of bliss, to feel more grounded. You are directly and intentionally choosing to spend your time and energy a certain way, and you feel lots of things when you make it happen -- loss, gain, and confusion, for example. That's the thrill of it. But if you don't feel clearer, calmer, and exercised after doing yoga in your otherwise busy life, you are less likely to continue pursuing it.

Yoga has become firmly embedded in the health, fitness, and wellness industry, mostly for the better. As a yoga student and consumer, you have so much choice. Too much choice, perhaps. You have to find the right experience, for you, and then turn it into something sustainably beneficial for you personally. It's a lot to ask.

You can do it, though, of course you can, by continuing to ask yourself how you directly, personally and immediately, feel about your yoga class and your teacher. 

My wish for my students in 2018, for anyone doing yoga, is that you keep mapping back all the words you hear (and read), everywhere, including in your yoga class, to the experience of being in your body at any given place and time. Take a class, take lots of classes, listen to the teacher, and continue doing it if your direct experience feels true, steady, and good. 


Kim Weeks