Off the mat: What you need to know about yoga

Nikki Natividad
Off the mat: What you need to know about yoga
If you think yoga is just another exercise, think again

MANILA, Philippines — Yoga is a practice that intertwines movement with breath. It’s a purposeful series of movements, with each pose punctuated by a long, deep inhale and exhale. While it is a form of exercise, the practice integrates moments of rest and recovery. It’s something you can’t rush.  

Movement and breath are involuntary actions that are given new meaning and purpose when set in a yoga practice. They are key functions of the body that would remain unnoticed unless we gave it the same scrutiny we would give, say, balancing on a tight rope.

But why is this so valuable? What’s more, what makes the yoga practice different from any other physical activity, and why should anyone pursue it?

To the bystander, yoga seems like a regular aerobic exercise dressed under a big mess of karmic mumbo jumbo. But underneath all of the rituals and enigmatic phrases that is part and parcel of the yoga routine is a whole slew of philosophies strewn together to form a practice that is transformative and healing, thoughtful and scientific. So, to answer some of our most pressing queries about the true purpose of a yogic practice, we interviewed Founding Teacher of Urban Ashram Manila and devout yogi, Lasse Holopainen. 

   Photo by Terence Ver Angsioco

Body over matter

Think of your body as your limitation throughout this lifespan,” he noted as we discussed the yoga philosophy behind Urban Ashram Manila. 

In the yoga journey, your first goal will be to tap into your greatest human potential, both physical and mental. Everyday, we spend hours slumped at our desks, stooped over our phones, and uncomfortable in our long commutes. And each day, the toils of life grind down on us like an invisible weight, as if we were Atlas, sentenced to a lifetime bearing the weight of the heavens on our shoulders.

If this sounds farfetched, imagine yourself as a doting mother who wants nothing but to teach her child how to bike on a Saturday afternoon. But because you work a long day job 5 times a week, never get enough exercise, and are hampered by joint pains or too tight hamstrings, you find that you never have the energy to take your kids out to play. In that sense, your body is limiting your potential. 

Fortunately, none of us are condemned to the same eternal fate as poor Atlas, and we can easily reverse the effects of our everyday toils on our minds and bodies. By deepening our awareness of our own physicality, we become aware of the little aches and pains that plague our everyday lives. It’s by synchronizing the breath with movement that you really get into the nuances of your body. And because of yoga’s unique approach, what with its blend of simple and complex poses that we can tap into muscles that we never knew we even had. 

Just a feeling

To put it simply, yoga is ultimately about finding happiness, and the yoga practice is the means. By keeping a healthy mind and body, we set ourselves up for our greatest human potential. To be well and able-bodied, we can do anything, especially knowing that life will eventually come to an end.

That’s the difference between yoga and any other physical practice – it’s less about the act of yoga itself than it is about the personal benefits. So when you practice yoga, it’s not about how long you can hold a headstand for or how many chaturanga dandasanas you can do before you call it a day. It’s about addressing your needs in that moment.

This is an aspect of yoga that Lasse has a very personal experience with. Having been a heavy drinker and chain smoker for 25 years, Lasse was hampered by constant back pains and recurring illnesses. It was only when he had to be wheeled out of his hotel to the airport because his back kept giving in that he realized that it was time to make a change. That’s when yoga came into his life.

“Ultimately, I feel better as a person from the practice, and that’s what you try to communicate. And through the very exploration I found out things about my body that I never found. That’s what we want to convey to the students – all of that wonder, that energy, that feeling of joy and that ecstasy. That’s life and how we can live life to the fullest. And again, first we start with the body.”

Why you should do it

Everyone is welcome to join the yoga practice. Some of the most common apprehensions that people have about doing yoga is their own self-consciousness or a misconception that they already need to be flexible. And more often than not, it’s the men who are most reluctant.

“Men more than anyone can become better yogis, because there’s muscle strength for certain poses.” The biggest hurdle for men is the pain of stretching those muscles that have shortened with time because of all the flexing. But stretching and extending the body is a feat that anyone can accomplish.

Lasse notes with a laugh that one of the most fulfilling sights to see is that of surprised men who have suddenly found themselves able to touch their toes.

“In Urban Ashram, we try to teach it as a holistic practice, and there’s much more to it and we try to encourage the students in a process of discovery.”

Being a man himself, and coming from an unhealthy lifestyle, Lasse understand exactly what his students go through — the struggle to overcome the weightiness of life. So his philosophy for Urban Ashram Manila is to make it as easy as possible for newcomers to get into the yoga practice, so as to encourage them to integrate it into their lives. Classes like Flexibility Not Required and Stress-Free Gentle Flow are especially tailored to address all those apprehensive about the pain of extensions.

Duly equipped with the right tools and vast knowledge of yoga, Lasse’s goal is to give his students the best yoga experience they can get. “At the end of the day, you want to give the best, especially with something like human potential.” —


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