You may have heard yoga described as an integrative practice. The first time someone described it to me in that way, I didn’t understand what they meant.
But in fact, the word “yoga” means to join together or yoke.
Generally, we think of yoga as uniting the mind and the body. But the idea of joining or harmonizing can be observed in so many parts of our practice.
For example, imagine attempting your favorite asana using only a single muscle or group of muscles. The pose would be very difficult, and you would feel very unsteady. Now imagine the same pose, but with your entire body engaged: from the major muscles of the core all the way to the tips of your fingers and soles of your feet. Immediately, the pose becomes steadier and easier. Your limbs feel lighter, balance is easier, and you have greater flexibility.
In the first scenario, the body is disconnected from itself, and a single part is overburdened by the task. In the second scenario, the body achieves the posture by working together, as a unified system. This integration makes our limbs feel lighter, improves our flexibility, and creates more strength.
And there are countless other examples of integration in yoga:
- Matching the breath to our movements, as in vinyasa-style yoga, integrates our breath practice (pranayama) with our asana practice.
- Choosing to practice appropriate variations of poses – according to our body’s abilities and limitations, rather than what those around us are doing – integrates the practice with our individual condition, making yoga more nourishing and beneficial to us.
- Setting intentions, and focusing on our intention while we practice, integrates our moments with our greater personal or spiritual goals. It also connects the time we spend practicing yoga to the rest of our life away from our mat.
- Even conscious breathing is an integrator! Taking a full, complete breath requires the use of every muscle in the throat.
I invite you to begin recognizing the integrating moments in your practice. Be fully present with them, be grateful for them, and then ask yourself how you can take them off your mat and out into the world.
[Image source: http://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-practice/mindfulness-and-awareness/body-and-mind-integration]