What is Yoga, REALLY?

February 13, 2019

hilarious-yoga-memes-5Having moved to Bozeman from Maui in 1983 with a mission to introduce yoga and mind-body fitness to the community, I was up against many misconceptions and much skepticism around the word ‘yoga’. Often thought of as mysterious, foreign, unattainable, and just plain weird, I disguised my offerings within a fitness class called Strong, Stretched and Centered.

Taking off our shoes to begin with yoga practices, then donning our shoes for aerobic dance and calisthenics, then removing them again for more yoga was quite intriguing for those that attended this 90-minute mind-body work out. Not long after experiencing the benefits of mindful movement, conscious breathing, and deep relaxation techniques, the interest in Yoga truly caught on and after a few years of integrated fitness I was able to offer classes without the cushion of familiar exercise and focused purely on the powerful practices of traditional Hatha Yoga.

Nancy-VCR-imageBeing a part of this wave of Yoga in America has been both an honor and a challenge. Pleased to operate on the leading edge, I continue in my role as an educator for alternative wellness practices and am deeply grateful to pass on this wisdom to the students who enter our school of Yoga and Ayurveda, becoming teachers themselves.

However, there still exists many misconceptions and hesitancies around this healing modality and so I invite you to read on and learn more about the massive growth and expansion of Yoga in America and what  Yoga really is all about.

According to the Yoga in America study conducted by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance in 2016, yoga is being practiced by some 37 million people in the U.S. That’s an increase in 20 million people over a 3-year period. This means about one out of ten people are practicing, which is pretty impressive. People try yoga for all different reasons, though those reasons are also evolving.

“Beyond yoga’s increasing popularity, what’s fascinating is the data shows that those who practice yoga have measurably better perceptions of their individual strength, balance, dexterity and mental clarity versus non-practitioners,” said Yoga Alliance Executive Director and COO Barbara Dobberthien. “Practitioners are also much more likely to be involved in a variety of other forms of exercise, as well as focused on sustainable living and eating.”

Research on yoga indicates that it may be helpful in managing several health conditions, including low-back pain, neck pain, menopause symptoms, and sleep problems. It also may help people with chronic diseases, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Yoga may also have benefits for several aspects of general well-being, including stress management, balance, positive aspects of mental health, and promoting healthy eating and exercise habits.

yoga-mat-rolled-1024x683A lot of people who aren’t currently practicing think they will, presumably because they’re aware of the benefits. Are you of them? Is it time you stepped (back) onto the mat?

I find that there continues to be many misperceptions that block people from reaping the many benefits of this ancient art and science. I hear excuses of inflexibility, back injury, illness, and fear of hurting oneself keeping people at bay even though there are threads of curiosity and desire. No matter what limitations you may be facing in your body or your mind, it is for these very reasons that it is time to open to the benefits that Yoga has to offer.

What is most important to understand is that Yoga is about what you CAN do, not what you can’t do. Yoga means to ‘yoke’, taking all aspects of our life and threading them together so that we feel whole rather than fragmented.

heartYes, there are physical yoga postures and movements, and there is also the power of the breath, the focusing of the mind, the calming of emotions, and the spark of spiritual awakening. Spirituality does not mean religion or cult – yet I know this misconception is still alive and well. Spiritual awakening comes from being connected to your own heart and your inner most beliefs about your place in this life and feeling at peace with yourself.

One of my many illustrious teachers, Joel Kramer, further clarifies what this practice really means:

“At its core, Yoga is a process that involves confronting your limits and transcending them. It is a psycho-physical approach to life and to self-understanding that can be creatively adapted to the needs of the times. Yoga transforms you by opening up the physical and mental binds that block your potential, limiting your life.

Transformation is a process that brings newness and interest. The transformation that yoga brings makes you more yourself and opens you up to loving with greater depth. It involves a honing and refining which releases your true essence, as a sculptor brings out the beauty of form in the stone by slowly and carefully chipping away the rest.”

Walking this path over the past 40 years I view yoga as a lifelong healing journey. It is an intelligent, integrative modality that is unique to each person. Authentic yoga allows us to select, adapt and modify appropriately for each individual respectful of age, culture, religion, and specific challenges facilitating optimal health and healing of the body, mind and spirit.

The only authentic yoga is the one that works for each person according to circumstances and needs, and there are many possibilities.. - T.K.V. Desikachar

As with any course of study, the best way to apply the lessons is through a number of systems that take the philosophy of the practice into teachable steps.

I invite you to join me this week, February 20th, for Wellness Wednesday, either in person at YMWA or online via Facebook Live. In this 90-minute session we will address the big picture of yoga and a few very effective systems that will allow you to easily apply small steps that can make very big differences in your day-to-day life.

nancy250x250My own translation of the meaning of Yoga draws from a combination of interpretations from the Yoga Sutras, the classical philosophy recorded by Patanjali.

“Yoga is the quieting of the mind allowing the radiance of the heart to shine.” – Nancy Ruby

When you live whole-heartedly, you will shine no matter what challenges present themselves. Life is ever-changing, yet deep in our core is a place of peace and comfort that sustains us through the journey.

How has Yoga served you on your path of health and healing?

Please share your story with us. Help to inspire those who are still leaning in from the sidelines, not quite yet in the game. May our team of wellness warriors continue to expand and inspire a healthier, happier, whole-hearted world.

With deep compassion,



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