I’ve often heard yoga teachers use the word “integration” to describe the process of retaining new learning. But no one explains what it means and what to do, almost as if it is some magical process. What does integration really mean?
—D. Johnson, Petaluma, CA
Esther Myers’ reply:
The common dictionary definition of the word integration is: “To make into a whole by bringing all parts together; to unify.” The meaning of integration is the same as the word yoga, which is defined as “to yoke” or “to join.”
To me, the word integration suggests making your yoga practice a part of you and your life. Underlying the practice of yoga is the premise that there is a connection between sentient beings, the world, and the universe itself. Yoga is designed to help us experience this connection.
The process of yoga is somewhat mysterious, but we can look at some very simple, concrete indications of its effects by examining the process of integration. If you think back to your first yoga class, you may remember feeling slightly uneasy, anxious, or uncertain because the place and the practice were new. Gradually the rhythm and style of the class became familiar, and the weekly class became part of your routine. Attending regular yoga class became integrated into your week.
If you have begun to practice on your own, then yoga has been integrated into your daily life. I find that the days that I don’t practice feel incomplete—like I’ve missed breakfast—and that my practice is an essential part of me and my sense of well-being.
As you continue with your yoga practice, you may notice changes in your body. Maybe your legs are more flexible or your shoulders less tense. Your posture may be better or your breathing more relaxed. When this starts to happen, you have begun to integrate what you’ve learned into your body.
At the same time, you may catch yourself reverting to old habits like tensing your neck at a computer or slouching while you wait in line at the bank machine. At this stage, your yoga practice is also becoming a part of your awareness and has an impact on your day-to-day functioning.
As you become more aware of how you are functioning physically, you may become more conscious of your emotions and how they affect your body. Do you clench your jaw when an irritating colleague walks into a meeting or feel the knots in your stomach when you’re nervous? Are you calmer and more relaxed after yoga class? At this stage, you are feeling the connection between your body, your breath, and your emotional state.
A student of mine who is vice president of a medium-sized company recently told me that he is treating his colleagues differently as a result of his yoga practice. I don’t think he knows quite how this happened, and it is taking him a while to adjust to the change. My impression is that he is both pleasantly surprised and also somewhat disconcerted by this new way of relating. For him, the practice of yoga is changing his relationships.
To examine how yoga is becoming integrated in your life, start by paying attention to changes that you notice in your body, breathing, emotions, attitudes, and relationships as your yoga practice evolves.
For a more extensive discussion of the process of yoga, I recommend Stephen Cope’s book, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self.