We are busy people. We have full lives; we live at the center of a wheel that turns constantly, with professional, family, health, spiritual, and personal spokes of responsibilities, challenges, and joys. We bounce between feeling full and satisfied and just plain busy with lots of activities that don’t seem to be organized into anything purposeful. It is the way of modern life.
Doing a yoga practice can be yet another thing on that list. Something we “should” do, like laundry or bill paying or calling mom. Check. I admit, sometimes I take a class more out of obligation to the to-do list than anything else. But then, I arrive on the mat and realize why I yoga.
Yoga, most broadly, is a remarkably malleable life practice that provides a way to make sense of it all. When we need to stop and take a breath, yoga is there. A yoga practice is time, apart from everything and everyone else, to just pause. I know, sometimes we don’t really want to pause—we think we need to keep moving or else . . . . Or else what? Will we self-combust? Will a pause really undo us or just maybe, might it right the ship of our lives in ways that are so needed?
Yoga is a place for release. Of the breath we hold in all day or the muscles we lock without even knowing it. Of the external stressors and whirring thoughts that are often the same as yesterday and the day before. Of an identity we have built based on others’ expectations. A release of the rigidity not only of the body but of the creative mind and spirit.
Yoga is a source for inspiration. A place we come to know ourselves, because on the mat, no one is watching, judging, “liking,” or asking something of us. When we carve out time to stop and release and breathe, we allow our own voice to arrive front and center, emerging from the many others that crowd our mind and schedules and sadly, obscure our own inner source, our soul. On the mat, we “know” in ways that are hard to describe but unmistakable to recognize when it happens.
Yoga is interesting and practical. It is a different way of moving and thinking about our physical experience. It is invigorating to learn more about this body we walk around with and about how mind and body influence each other. We learn new ways to realign physically and to move more efficiently, whether simply walking, conducting, lifting your kiddos, singing, or training for a 10K.
Yoga teaches awareness that leads to clarity. How do I feel now? What do I need to let go of? Where in my body am I finding more freedom or imbalances? The simple stretch or twist or basic standing pose brings us from the outer sheath of the physical body, inward, to deeper and more subtle sheaths, or koshas, of energy, mind, wisdom, and bliss. So simple and yet profound, so hard to articulate and yet so real, an hour on the mat (or a half hour or 10 minutes) brings us back to a place of strength.
Yoga is anywhere I am. I don’t need to go to a studio. I can practice at home with an online class or outside on vacation or in the rehearsal by breathing mindfully, focusing my attention, and adapting movement or postures to the musical environment. I can release physical holding while standing in line at the grocery store or balance my inhales and exhales while stuck in traffic. Yoga is always available.
Yoga is a great connector. It supports every other part of our lives once we see the intersections. My professional life as a teacher, leader, and choral conductor has been informed in countless ways as I learn to let go of the outcomes of my work, even as I dedicate myself more earnestly to it. Service, love, and being still and listening are central tenets of my personal faith tradition, which yoga has supported. Physical health and wellness practices of yoga and its sister science, Ayurveda, reset me and remind me to honor the physical vessel that houses my spirit and makes it possible for me to be in this world where on my best days, I can make it a little better.
Yoga is inclusive. You don’t need a PhD to access it; you don’t need to be “in shape” to practice it; you don’t need to prove anything before you arrive on the mat. Yoga is a space—for you, for me, for anyone, a tradition to be honored and welcomed for the gift that it is. We roll out the mat, breathe, let go, and learn about ourselves as we grumble about our physical challenges (“aw, c’mon, not that pose”) and learn to work through them. We smile and relax and feel a part of a community, even a virtual community that might be practicing with us. We listen and learn and even laugh at our own foibles (I sometimes call it humility training). We get back on track and thank ourselves for putting in the time to do something that will help us be more whole and at peace, even for a moment. Yoga applauds us—for showing up, for being willing, and for being who we are.
Dr. Ramona Wis is the Mimi Rolland Endowed Professor in the Fine Arts, Professor of Music, and Director of Choral Activities at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and the author of The Conductor as Leader: Principles of Leadership Applied to Life on the Podium. Dr. Wis is a 500-hour CYT (Certified Yoga Teacher) with training in yoga history, philosophy, meditation, energetics, pranayama (breath work), anatomy, Sanskrit, and the teaching, sequencing, and adaptations of asana (posture-based) practice. Reach her at: