Some days the journey to your yoga mat looks like a trek across the Mojave desert. That mountain pose is Everest, and your resolve has all the rigidity of a wet noodle. You need a powerful catalyst -- or at least the incitement of inspiration -- to get your game on. Enter the pithy quote, the distillation of a yoga practice into perceived wisdom and pragmatic advice. Grab a quote and your water bottle to get started.
Yoga is many things, but a fitness class isn't one of them. For that, you go to the gym. For yoga, you bring your self to the studio or the mat. What you discover there has less to do with touching your toes or standing on your head than with finding the courage to confront the truth, open your heart to it, and live with it.
- Noted yogi B.K.S. Iyengar said, "Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter the flame."
- Rock star Sting, who is well known for his yoga practice, admitted, "When I really do my Yoga in the morning, I have more energy in the day. I get more done. My mind is more composed. There are more benefits to it than I would have thought. They are not just physical, but mental and I am even coming to believe that they are spiritual."
- Indian yoga teacher and Sanskrit scholar, K. Pattabhi Jois, said, "Yoga is an internal practice. The rest is just a circus. Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory."
- Hindu spiritual teacher and yogi Sivananda noted, "You can have calmness of mind at all times by the practice of yoga. You can have restful sleep. You can have increased energy, vigour, vitality, longevity, and a high standard of health. You can turn out efficient work within a short space of time. You can have success in every walk of life."
- From actress Mariel Hemingway comes this gem: "Yoga teaches you how to listen to your body."
- Russian yoga teacher and yogini Indra Devi said, "Yoga means union, in all its significances and dimensions."
- An unknown yoga enthusiast said the following: "Yoga is the whole package -- mind, body, spirit. Yoga is an expression of you."
- Jnana yoga instructor Joel Kramer noted, "Yoga is a dance between control and surrender - between pushing and letting go -- and when to push and when to let go becomes part of the creative process, part of the open-ended exploration of your being."
- In the Bhagavad Gita, it notes, "Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self."
The word "practice" is no accident when applied to yoga. A yoga practice is a commitment of time, energy, focus, and intention, hauled out and placed on a sticky mat every day. The stronger your commitment, the deeper the joy.
- According to BKS Iyengar, "Your body exists in the past and your mind exists in the future. In yoga, they come together in the present."
- Iyengar also noted, "Yoga is like music: the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life."
- Spiritual teacher Peace Pilgrim had mastered the pithy quote: "That's why it's called a practice. We have to practice a practice if it is to be of value."
- According to yoga instructor Rodney Yee, "What we're trying to do in yoga is to create a union, and so to deepen a yoga pose is to actually increase the union of the pose, not necessarily put your leg around your head."
- Yee also said, "The places where you have the most resistance are actually the places that are going to be the areas of the greatest liberation."
- From Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck comes these words of wisdom: "In practice, we return over and over again to perception, to just sitting. Practice is just hearing, just seeing, just feeling."
- Model turned yoga instructor Tara Stiles offered yoga wisdom including, "What you practice on the mat is what you end up doing in your life."
- Stiles also noted, "Say you're doing a headstand. The moment you think to yourself, 'Wow, I'm doing this pose!' is usually the moment you'll topple out of it."
- A snippet of wisdom from the yogi on the next mat who said, "Daily practice is the stubborn declaration that you matter, no matter what."
- Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga founder Baron Baptiste wryly observed, "The pose begins when you want to get out of it."
To sit with the breath and empty the mind, to be utterly still; this is the original and continuing purpose of yoga. The asanas were first developed to help yogis master the challenging art of sitting. Serious practitioners today embrace the yoga of meditation as the highest goal of a practice.
- Everybody's favorite Tibetan Buddhist monk, the Dalai Lama, is a practical soul saying, "Sleep is the best meditation."
- Nobel Peace Prize nominee and founder of Plum Village Thich Nhat Hanh said, "Meditation can help us embrace our worries, our fear, our anger; and that is very healing. We let our own natural capacity of healing do the work."
- Buddhist nun, author and meditation teacher Pema Chodron observed, "If it weren't for my mind, my meditation would be excellent."
- Vipassana teacher and author Jack Kornfield wrote, "Develop a mind that is vast like space, where experiences both pleasant and unpleasant can appear and disappear without conflict, struggle or harm. Rest in a mind like vast sky."
- Overheard at the water fountain after Savasana: "Your meditation cushion is the seat of all your wisdom."
- Also heard at the water fountain, "When you are still within, the chaos of the jangly world recedes."
- Catholic bishop and spiritual guide Saint Francis de Sales was a devotee of yoga's central practice, "Half an hour's meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed."
- Actor Hugh Jackman keeps it real on his mat: "Meditation is all about the pursuit of nothingness. It's like the ultimate rest. It's better than the best sleep you've ever had. It's a quieting of the mind. It sharpens everything…it keeps life fresh."
Breath is prana, the life force. Your breath is your life, and it's one of the pillars of a yoga practice. On the street, when you feel stress, while you're concentrating on a demanding task, breathe. On the mat, when you find the pose, breathe. By controlling the breath, you control your experience.
Everyday reflection on the breath yields a few small gems:
- "In the space between inhalation and expiration you discover liberation."
- "Breathe in peace and a new thought to replace a troubling one. Breathe out stress, fear, and the present moment that is just passing through."
Talk show super-host and entrepreneur Oprah underscores the importance of breath:
- "Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure."
You can never say too many important things about breathing:
- "Breath is yoga's ace; it changes everything."
- "Try giving up breathing for five minutes. Pranayama is essential to practice and your life."
Krishnamacharya authority and world-reknownned teacher TKV Desikachar recommends slowing down:
- "Whenever you are in doubt, it is best to pause. Few things are so pressing that they cannot wait for a moment of breath."
The elaborate and specific hand gestures that accompany Indian dance and some yoga asanas have important symbolic meanings and are an evocation of blessings. Pay attention to the mudras assigned to your asanas. They can take a simple pose to a whole new level.
- A practitioner of yoga hand gestures links the movements to their deity saying, "The mudras tap Shiva on the shoulder and invite him to dance."
- The famous 15th-century Sanskrit manuscript, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, gives this advice: "In order, therefore, to awaken this goddess, who is sleeping at the entrance of Brahma Dwara (the great door), mudras should be practiced well."
- Don't complicate your mudras; consider this: "Mudra practice is a discipline of aspiring to grace."
Addicted to yoga or just firmly in the yoga camp, your time on the mat changes your life. Yogis discuss how much better they feel, how easy it was to ditch bad habits, how excited about living, and how good they feel. Yoga can make you calmer, healthier, and happier. So book yourself a yoga class, check out the local juice bar, and Namaste.
Good advice often comes disguised as positive prescriptions for living your life:
- "Eat greener, be kinder, notice the little things, spend your time and attention wisely, and live more lightly on the fragile planet."
- "Run some days, bench press others, walk in nature, and show up at your mat every morning."
Actress Julianne Moore swears by her yoga practice:
- "I do ashtanga yoga three times a week, and I run a couple of times a week, too. I really like yoga; I enjoy the actual doing of it, so it doesn't feel like the agony of the gym felt like to me."
After a Sun Salutation, think of this:
- "When you greet the sun with Surya Namaskar, you welcome more light into your life."
You don't need a lot of stuff to do yoga, although a good mat and comfortable clothes will cut down on the distractions and allow you to focus on the poses. You bring everything in your life to your practice anyway -- from diet to stress level to intention to attention. It's already pretty crowded in that studio.
Cancer survivor and wellness activist Kris Carr takes her yoga to the kitchen:
- "My refrigerator is powerful. In fact, it has a direct link to my overall well-being."
It's not really about the gear; dedicated yogis know it's about your intention:
- "A sticky mat is a magic carpet to deeper tranquility."
- "You need yourself and your will to do yoga -- it's a body-mind game, additional equipment optional."
- "Skip the fancy spandex and concentrate on your form. Your breath and your body will get you through every pose."
Ram Dass said, "Be here now." Simple, direct, and the secret to finding joy. Yoga works your mindfulness muscle, which makes you stronger in every area of your life, more alive and empathetic, and better at keeping your heels down in downward-facing dog.
An unknown yoga student observed:
- "When we pay attention, everything gives off more light."
Co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society Sharon Salzberg explains mindfulness:
- "Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what's happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what's happening, stories that get in the way of direct experience."
Mindfulness seems simple but, as a yoga student notes, it's a rewarding challenge:
- "By continually returning to the present moment, we learn to release fear and become powerful."
- "Mindfulness is a glimpse of immortality because it erases time."
Count the ways yoga makes you feel better and don't limit yourself to the physical. Sure, it improves your flexibility, balance, mood, and muscle tone. But it also inches you closer to enlightenment, true inner peace, and tremendous clarity.
Random comments from yogis and yoginis highlight the varied benefits of a regular yoga practice:
- "Find freedom from fear and worry on your mat."
- "Asanas open the door to a calm mind and a de-stressed body."
- "Yoga teaches you to focus and to make intelligent decisions in the middle of the daily madness. Yoga makes you a better chess player.
For actress Miranda Kerr, yoga provides a still space and a fitness workout:
- "Yoga gives me the opportunity to switch off and focus entirely on my body and my breath. It is also great for core strength and maintaining agility."
This yogi believes that yoga demands a holistic view:
- "The benefit is in perfecting each asana to the point of fail, every time. Perfection is the journey; wellbeing is the destination."
Yoga is a natural tool for attitude adjustment. It helps you to reach a clear, calm space where the unimportant things stay unimportant and less and less can push you off your center. Try bringing a healthy attitude to your daily mat work, as well as working on the chill factor you expand through practice.
Owner of New York's Yoga Shanti studios Colleen Saidman Yee recommends:
- "Allow beauty and sadness to touch you. This is love, not fear."
- "Let's hold hands and brave this beautiful, crazy life together with a sweet smile and a calm breath."
Beloved yoga teacher and director of Nova Scotia's Gampo Abbey Pema Chodron keeps a sense of humor in her teachings:
- "You are the sky. Everything else -- it's just the weather."
Try this suggestion from an anonymous yogini and see whether it works for you:
- "Give thanks, even for the worst session on your mat, and you will surprise yourself with happiness."
Kundalini yoga teacher Yogi Bhajan spoke simply and profoundly:
- "The attitude of gratitude is the highest yoga."
Yoga teacher Kathyrn Budig tells her celebrity clients to "aim true" and:
- "Own your beauty whatever shape or form it comes in."
Sage teacher Baron Baptiste is a yogapreneur with a wide following and some tough advice:
- "You can meditate and do yoga until you are blue in the face, and all you will ever be is blue in the face unless you have the courage to open your heart, face reality, admit mistakes, and take right action."
The Sound of Silence
Yoga isn't really all talk-talk-talk, even if words of wisdom from the masters can be extremely inspirational. A regular yoga practice is a ticket to a space of inner stillness that may find its expression in words -- or in the energy you take into the rest of your day. Collect a few quotes of your own to steel your resolve on those days when you'd rather sleep in or head home early and just veg. Try keeping a journal as part of your practice. Write your own quotes as brilliant -- or reassuringly ordinary -- insights come to you. It's one way to track your progress. And you may surprise yourself at the unanticipated places your yoga journey will take you.