Recently I was asked this question by OneWorld retreats in order to promote my yoga retreat in Bali. The first answer that came to mind was: “why not?” And then: “because it is easier than meditation”. I realize that those are not satisfactory answers, let alone very explanatory for those that are new to yoga, so let me try to come up with a helpful answer.
I guess the question “Why yoga?” could relate to me (why do I practice yoga?) or to people in general (why should one practice yoga?). I think the reason to practice yoga is different for everyone, even though most people seem to receive very similar benefits from it. This reason may change over the years, or even day by day. It certainly did – and does – for me. I will begin with sharing why I started practicing yoga.
In my previous life – as a like to refer to it – I was a corporate lawyer. That’s right, for 10 years I worked at the largest and best law firms in Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Curacao (Netherlands Antilles), and for Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Initially I enjoyed it – I believed I was making a positive change in the world. Yet after a couple of years working in this stressful environment, which it was, I developed a strange numbness in my right hand and pain in my right arm. It got to the point that my right arm was so weak, when on a ski trip in Switzerland I couldn’t carry my own skis. The rest of that day I couldn’t stop crying. The thought of having to go back to work the next Monday was too much. Back home I went to see my doctor. He put it very clearly: “If you don’t stop working right now, you won’t be able to brush your teeth by the end of the week.” I was diagnosed with Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). Allegedly, this was caused by having improper posture while spending way too many hours behind the desk and a computer. During the months I stayed at home, and seeing a team of specialists at a clinic once a week, it turned out that the real cause of my physical problems was stress. Then, somebody suggested that I try yoga.
During that time, I really wasn’t into anything remotely spiritual – which I deemed yoga to be. The furthest I had gotten in that regard was reading the first chapter of The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav (something resonated, but I wasn’t ready for it) and the condensed version of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (that actually was very helpful). So taking a yoga class? I didn’t think so. I knew, however, that something needed to change, so I was willing to give it a try.
My mom had recommended her yoga teacher, who taught only very gentle yoga. And gentle it was. During the class we would not get any further than sitting up from lying down. I was by far the youngest in the class (and I was 28). The only reason I went back after the first class is because it gave me a “good” reason (pun intended) to leave the office “early” (ditto) once a week. Yet, after a few weeks I started to notice something: I felt very calm and soft (as opposed to stressed out and tied up) each time I came back home from that class. It even got to the point that I asked my boyfriend at the time to go hang out with his friends on my yoga night, so I could be home by myself after class and stay in my little bubble of peacefulness. Once I was able to manage my levels of stress better, the pain in my arm and hand eventually subsided.
Fast-forward 6 years: I was now practicing yoga a couple of times a week. I practiced by myself at home, took a weekly Hatha Yoga class and was somewhat addicted to Bikram Yoga. A friend recommended a yoga retreat in Bali. Much to my own surprise I did end up at that retreat, and practiced yoga twice a day for a week. I had never felt so good in my own body. I actually didn’t know that it was even possible to feel this good not only physically but also mentally. At the end of a day of silence I experienced, for the first time ever, what it was like to observe the chatter in my mind and then “watch it” go quiet. By the end of the week I had decided to find a yoga teacher training. I wanted to study yoga and learn why yoga had such an effect on me.
Less than a year later I became a certified yoga teacher at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts. During the teacher training I learned about many more reasons to practice yoga. I think I could fill a whole book with reasons. In fact I know I could, as many others have done already. As my studies continued, my perspective on the reason to practice yoga has changed, and changed, and changed again.
Right now – and it may change again – the most profound reason for me to practice yoga is this: Yoga, as a meditation in motion, is a tool to become more aware, to practice present moment awareness. When we are more aware, life becomes an experience rather than something that happens to us; it reduces suffering. This state of awareness allows us to connect with who we really are so that we no longer need to reach outside ourselves to find it.
Whatever your reason is to practice yoga, it is always a good one. I truly believe that everyone’s life improves in one way or the other, when one practices yoga. Imagine what it would do for the world if everyone actually did…
Marije E. Paternotte
 You may have guessed it: this is the retreat center where I teach my retreats now!
 Some recommended titles, in random order:
– Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope
– Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
– Kripalu Yoga, A guide to Practice On and Off the Mat by Richard Faulds
– Insight Yoga by Sarah Powers
– Yin Yoga by Paul Grilley
– Yoga Sutras of Patanjali translated by Mukunda Stiles