I’ve done a lot of different kinds of yoga, and depending on what you consider yoga to be, it’s what I do every single day. These days yoga means a lot of things to a lot of people, but my friend and fellow dancer, Anjali Tata, taught me its essential meaning before I actually learned a single asana (or pose) and without any sermon attached.

Anjali and I were both considered rookies in the UC Berkeley Modern Dance department, though she had spent the majority of her childhood mastering the ancient Indian dance form of Bharata Natyam and had more art and soul in her dancing than most of our classmates put together. We traveled to New York City together in the summer of ’97 to load up on technique at the Martha Graham dance school, and between the excitement of living on the Lower East Side and the challenges of learning the physical and cultural coda of the Graham school, my 20-year-old mind was spinning faster than I could catch up.

Anjali was riding her own rollercoaster, but seemed to remain focused and steady on her path to mastery, and I could tell that her daily dose of quiet morning stretching was giving her something I needed more of, i.e. “the stilling of the changing states of the mind”, which is how the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali define the practice of Yoga.

The Sanskrit word yoga can actually be derived from two different roots – one means “to yoke”, the other means “to concentrate”. A lot of the yoga I see people doing these days seems more related to the former, a kind of yoking to an image or an ideal of how one should look and live that exists outside of oneself and that needs to be captured and held. This is the kind of yoga that leads to pain and injury.

To use yoga as a vehicle for arriving at states of inner quiet and for experiencing the kind of seeing and knowing that comes when images arise from the body, requires cultivating concentration. No amount of squeezing and twisting yourself into an image you imposed on your body will get you there, ever. It has nothing to do with how flexible your muscles are, although in the process of cultivating this kind of concentration you might discover that not only your body, but your mind and your heart become increasingly flexible too.

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