Why Yoga?

by Erich Schiffman

The first time I saw someone practicing yoga I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I was highly attracted, there being something profoundly “right” about what I was seeing; on the other hand there was a mysterious, exotic, and ancient air about it that made me nervous. I had never seen anything like it before. It seemed powerful, almost bizarre. The man I was watching obviously knew what he was doing, and he seemed to have access to a hidden reservoir of energy.

Questions like “Why in the world?” and “What for?” raced through my mind. Reactions like “So what,” “crazy,” and “fanatic” filtered through, and yet I was deeply impressed. I wanted to know how twisting and bending your body could have anything remotely to do with God, life, meaning, or happiness. What was yoga all about? What relationship could it possibly have with anything? With my life, my perceived problems, global issues, despair, hopelessness, the alleviation of suffering, making a difference, enlightenment … ? And like many things in life, we can never know in advance the full impact something is going to have on us. Reasons for our initial involvement may pale and lose importance as we move deeper. We change and learn, often in unexpected ways.

The simple perspective I have come up with, through all the years and thousands of hours of practicing yoga and meditation since that first exposure, is that yoga makes you feel good. It’s relaxing. It’s energizing. It’s strengthening. You feel better at the end of a session than before you began, and life runs more smoothly when you maintain a consistent discipline than when you don’t. Yoga enhances your experience of life. It changes your perspective. You thereby find yourself spontaneously embracing a larger, more accurate conception of who you are, how life works, and what God is. You start seeing things differently, with less distortion – which results in more peace of mind, better health, more enthusiasm for life, and an ever-growing authentic sense of inner well-being.