Om and Dharma: Why Yoga is so Much More than a Physical Practice

A few days ago, I attended a challenging vinyasa yoga class at a studio I’d never been to before. It was one of those classes where once or twice I say to myself, “She must be kidding” when the teacher directs us into a pose that is just not going to happen for my body that day.

Still, I felt great after the class, despite thinking at one point that my thighs were going to explode during one of the vinyasa sequences. But as the class wound to a close and the teacher imparted a short final blessing, I realized that there were two things this class did not include that I missed: a dharma talk and chanting.

Yoga Wisdom and the Sound of the Universe

Most of the classes I attend over the last few years begin with a short discussion of a yoga-related topic or a relevant reading. These classes also begin and end with chanting the sacred sound of “om.”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s possible to have a wonderful class without either of those elements. Sometimes I want a shorter, “mostly asana” class, and I’d probably go to fewer classes overall if I didn’t have the option to take a shorter class now and then. It’s just that I noticed there was something missing in this case, and I was grateful I knew it was missing. In other words, I’m grateful to teachers who include some food for the mind and soul as well as physical movement for the body.

Dharma and Om

So what are the benefits of those dharma and om parts of yoga class?

What is the purpose of life?

The answer is probably different for everyone. Personally, I find a lot of inspiration for my writing in the themes my yoga teachers speak about in class. Speaking briefly to the class is also a way to connect, even though time doesn’t usually allow for an actual conversation. (I often think it would be nice to have an optional discussion at the end of some classes.)

Chanting is another way everyone in the room can connect. And just as in life, sometimes there is a wonderful harmony as people join their voices to “om” while other times there is more of a cacophonous clash of sound.

Either way, yoga and chanting go hand in hand in my mind, and I notice when the chant is missing.

Body, Mind and Spirit

Once in a while (though truly not often), I come across a person who does not like yoga. I don’t mean a person who has a preferred style of practice or who has not yet practiced long enough to fall in love, but someone who truly does not like anything about the practice.

Most of the time, this is a person who thinks of yoga as a type of fitness activity, like running on a treadmill or playing tennis. It’s tempting to engage such a person in a conversation until I have convinced him or her there is always something to love about yoga and he or she has probably just not found the right style or teacher yet. Instead, I usually decide it’s one of those times for letting go.

The point I’d make if I did engage the person is while there are many wonderful physical benefits to yoga, we come to class not only to tone our bodies but also to open our spirits and still our minds. Many of us come to connect with like-minded people as well.

Maybe my own practice will speak for itself, and someday, everyone will love yoga. If not, I suppose that’s okay too.

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Maria Kuzmiak, M.A. is a health and well-being writer with a background in nutrition, psychology and education and a passion for yoga. She has written hundreds of articles, blogs and newsletters for clients in health-related fields, particularly those specializing in yoga, natural medicine, nutrition, and spiritual health and healing. Maria has also worked as a nutritionist, teacher and technical editor. Learn more about her writing at www.wellbeingwriter.net.

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