Downward dog is not yoga. At least not all of yoga.
I had no idea what to expect from my yoga retreat at Swan Yoga Retreat in Goa, India. At first I thought I wanted to go to an Ashram, because hey, Liz Gilbert did it. But once we got there, I realized I actually didn't want to go to an Ashram and that they aren't exactly what Eat, Pray, Love has made us believe. And that a yoga retreat - tourist-friendly and made for Westerners - was actually a much more appropriate introduction to yoga in India.
And I am so happy that the stars aligned in that way, because I learned so much about yoga at this retreat than I've ever learned about it before I went to India.
1. Asana is only one small part of yoga
In the West, we've come to associate the word yoga with the physical asana practice (postures) and that alone. When most people hear the word yoga they conjure up an image of someone in leggings doing a crazy handstand on a yoga mat. But that is just a small part of a much larger practice.
There are actually 8 limbs of yoga. Meditation, breathing, and concentration all included. And that you should really be incorporating all of these separate limbs into different aspects of your life.
Which leads me to...
2. Yoga doesn't have to (and shouldn't be) confined to your mat
If you're keen to take yoga further than your asana practice, you can also take it further from the mat. Meditation doesn't have to be sitting cross legged on a cushion on the floor. You can meditate standing in your kitchen peacefully while your coffee brews or you can meditate on a hike through the woods. And the same goes for breathing and concentration techniques.
Because the goal of yoga should not be to leave it confined to a 1-hour class per week. That class should be a haven for you to practice in the most perfect setting, but then take those skills into other aspects of your life. Being able to call on these practices during tough and challenging moments is when your practice is the most powerful.
3. Breathing is so important
Just breathe. Honestly, sit for 10 seconds taking deep breaths.
Do you feel better? More calm? More focused? It's that simple. Breathing techniques are extremely powerful.
4. Acceptance is the path to happiness
On one of our final days at Swan, we went down to Vagator Beach early one morning for meditation and yoga. Afterwards, Shivendra, one of the owners of the retreat, shared a story about his parents and acceptance. He spoke about their arranged marriage (which is still common in India today) and how they chose to accept their situation, rather than fight it, and through their acceptance, learned to love each other and find happiness.
It was a really open and honest story that really hit home for myself and my husband. Through accepting your circumstances - whatever they may be - you can find peace. And you can also channel that energy that would be wasted fighting your situation into something more positive in accepting those things you cannot change.
"Surrender to what is. Say yes to life - and see how life suddenly starts working for you instead of against you."
Hari om tat sat. x