Yoga's Roots Aren't In India, They're In You
After travelling to study Iyengar Yoga in Pune, India, Omega’s Being Yoga Conference lead developer, Traci Childress, discovered that yoga’s roots are ultimately deep within each of us.
I drag my suitcase through the Mumbai airport, surprised at the ease with which I negotiate the crowded hall. When I arrived in India a month ago, the crowds made me breathless. Despite the fact that it’s not yet sunrise, the air in the building is thick with heat and humidity held over from the days prior.
I am returning to the United States today after studying at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India. Since I began my practice of Iyengar Yoga, teachers and fellow practitioners have spoken of their experiences in Pune. After waiting for many years, it feels like I have finally completed an important rite of passage—I have studied at the Institute.
As I watch the travelers milling about, I am mindful of my breath and reminded that in Hinduism, breathing is called the ajapa mantra, or the unconscious repetitive prayer (So’Ham, Ham’So). We inhale (he/she/it am I) and we exhale, (I am he/she/it). By just showing up and breathing, we connect to something bigger than we are, bigger than our breath. We connect to it, take it in, and then let it go. My experience of yoga in the world is like this—there is an internal and an external yoga, though each one, like the inhalation and exhalation, is part of the same.
There is something powerful in returning home after a month of study in the birthplace of the practice I love. The asana practice was not different from the US and European Iyengar Yoga classes I have regularly attended for years, but having experienced this first-hand seems important. After intensive study, it seems that one of the larger lessons for me is that yoga takes us home, to the deepest place inside of us.
This is the internal experience, one that I sometimes feel distracted from by the external experience of yoga. In the states, I struggle with the glitz and glamour that surrounds yoga. The presence of yoga in North America means that the practice becomes intricately interwoven with mainstream ideas about fitness, health, and beauty. This cultural context can present distractions from the deeper internal experience of the practice.
I wonder how the month of study in Pune will translate into my everyday life. Being in India was essential for me—the trip was a chance to detach from my culture’s trappings around yoga and discover the connectedness of yoga in the world. It empowered me to believe that yoga is larger than the cultural nuances we experience in relation to it. Yoga is a tool for self-transformation. Once we’ve felt the roots of the practice take hold in ourselves, we have the powerful option of reaching outward and asking what it means to be part of this global community. It seems to me that at this point in time, this is what yoga has to offer each of us, and equally important, what it has to offer the world.