Reducing yoga to a form of exercise is like reducing women to sexual objects.
You may think this is a bold statement, but hear me out:
When we treat yoga as exercise, we objectify our bodies. If that’s your way into a real relationship, that can be okay. If it’s not, maybe, it wasn’t for you. Regardless, it is a superficial and unexplored view of yoga (and women) that will not withstand the test of time; the relationship must progress or fade, but a relationship with yoga (or any physical activity, really) will not last if it does not deepen past the physical level. For an exercise to become a practice, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual elements must be drawn into play, or, one day, we will simply cease to do it.
Continuing on the relationship analogy, our bodies are our partners in hatha yoga; in exercise, our bodies are our projects, our objects over which we dominate. Yoga is often translated as that which “yokes together.” In hatha yoga, we re-cultivate our awareness of our bodies, creating a bond between the body and the mind through shared experience. This awareness in combination with strict adherence to the first principle of yoga, Ahimsa (non-violence), yields a hatha practice that is pleasurable to the awareness and the body, a practice that corresponds to the messages of the body and reintegrates them into conscious awareness, so that they can be part of the overall decision-making process. This yields a deep and loving relationship between the mind and the body. It is this relationship and the joy of this reconnection that creates an abiding practice, and it is this relationship that can inspire us to expand our consciousness further, delve deeper into the wondrousness of ourselves, and more fully embody the yogic principles and lifestyle.
So, I encourage you to resist the temptation to profane this sacred time with your body by focusing on your imperfections, by competing on a physical level with the person on the mat next to you, or by pushing your body further into a pose when your body is telling you that this is its perfect expression of the asana today. Instead, stay with your partner, your body, and keep your awareness on its response, so that you can truly experience its capacity, its strength, and your unity and wholeness with it. After all, until we experience oneness, wholeness, with our bodies, how can we realize the inherent oneness of all existence?