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 a particularly difficult vinyasa sequence. 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 rather missed: a dharma talk and chanting.

Yoga Wisdom and the Sound of the Universe

Most of the classes I’ve attended over the last few years have begun with a short discussion of a yoga-related topic or a relevant reading. These classes also begin and end with the chanting of 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 that I knew it was missing. In other words, I’m grateful to teachers who include some food for the mind and spirit as well as physical movement for the body.

Dharma and Om

So what are the benefits of those parts of yoga class that I’ll call “dharma” and “om”? Well, I don’t know. 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 that my yoga teachers use in class. This might be as simple as a passage read from a newsletter or the mention of a simple yogic concept like letting go or honoring your body. 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 session at the end of some classes.)

Chanting is another way that 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 definitely notice when the chant is missing.

Body, Mind and Spirit

Once in a while (though truly not very 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 it. 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. But as tempting as it is for me to engage such a person in a conversation until I have convinced him or her that there is always something to love about yoga and that he or she has probably just not found the right style or teacher yet, it’s more likely that it’s just one of those times for letting go.

The point I’d make if I could, though, is that 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 sharpen (or still)  our minds, and even to connect with like-minded people. Perhaps my own practice will speak for itself, and perhaps someday, everyone will love yoga. But 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. Over the last 10 years, 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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