As athletes, we’re invested in watching our movement patterns, so that we can perfect them: We need to be efficient, fluid, and powerful in the movements our sport demands. Drills, skill work, and endless practice, practice, practice help us refine our movement patterns. Yoga does, too. It lets us observe movement patterns so that we can determine whether they serve us.
On the physical level, yoga asana practice lets us see how our bodies naturally move through space. Are there areas of tightness that restrict our freedom of movement? Are there imbalances in the body—front to back, top to bottom, left to right—that affect the way we move? Yoga lets us both observe and correct these areas of tightness and imbalances.
Yoga also lets us observe the movement patterns in the breath. We watch the breath across both space and time, noticing which parts of the body move as the breath enters, which move as it exits, and how these parts relate. We notice how long the inhalations take, how long the exhalations take, and how the two relate. As we gain awareness of the breath’s movement patterns, we learn to harness the power of the breath to serve the demands of what’s happening moment to moment, whether we’re in a challenging yoga pose, standing on the free-throw line, pedaling up a hill, or trying to stay present in the face of life’s adversities.
Most importantly, yoga teaches us to follow the movement patterns in the mind, what the Yoga Sutra calls citta vritti, the fluctuations of consciousness (or "whirls of the mind"). By watching how the mind swings from thought to thought, feeling to feeling, we begin to notice the separation between the observer (you) and the thoughts and feelings that arise. We can make choices about whether these patterns serve us. And we can begin to move toward the purpose of yoga: stilling these movement patterns. In this stillness, we can see our true nature.