I love asana practice. I love teaching it. I love the physicality of it, that we can feel our bodies do one thing and then another. That someone can lead us into poses that were unfamiliar to us.
But I don't practice yoga for my body.
I mean, there are days when I focus on my legs , tired from working on my feet for hours. I love opening my shoulders and back, feeling broad in places where I usually feel tight and constricted, but I could accomplish this with stretching and my body might not know the difference. My body does benefit, of course.
At the beginning of my practice I sit for 2-10 minutes, breathe and let the quiet come. If it comes. Usually I think of a to-do list, then bring my focus back, then I hear noises outside, or sometimes I realize I have opened my eyes and have been sitting there for minutes like that, thinking about bills or the best route on my bike to a meeting later. I practice. Everyday I close my eyes, and quiet my mind.
And then I move. I don't sit still often so I like the practice but the reason why there is movement, why yoga is more than exercise because it is both, mind and body. I'm sure you've heard something like that. In beginner classes I sometimes ask new students to sit quietly, then sit following their breath and then add the raising and lowering of arms. The body becomes a marker, a guide. Inhale, arms up, exhale arms fall. And, if you are not panicking about whether or not you are doing it right, maybe the mind quiets.
There is a connection between our emotions and thoughts and our physical body. You can feel tension when you are concerned or worried, for example. But there is also subtler connections. Today I tried a pose thinking "I have open hips" and then found the pose to be very difficult. I tried a variation, feeling the tension in what I thought was my soft muscles. We think we are one way. Sometimes, some days we are another. I thought I was patient and laid back for a long time. In some ways I am and in certain situations I can be. But mostly my mind races for solutions, worries, and plans. My response is to try to sit quietly a few minutes every day. And from there, maybe see if I can bring a little of that stillness and quiet into my body. There are things I think I know about myself. I practice and some days I find out something different. That is why I practice.