Yoga as a life-shaping practice
The more I practiced, the more I saw the gap between my normal state and the state I was in after a yoga practice.
Racing thoughts, to do lists and tension in my neck and shoulders was replaced by quiet, calm and learning what it felt like to have the muscles in my neck completely relax. The longer I've practiced, the more those qualities have followed me off the mat.
One of the yoga sutras says that to achieve what you want to achieve you have to practice "consistently, over time, without break." (I liked what I read in one commentary that "we are the product of our habits, not our epiphanies.") Yoga offers tools like asana (physical poses), meditation, bhavana (intention), pranayama (breathing), and kriya (visualization) to help relieve the stress and physical ailments of modern life. The practice has greatly heightened my sensitivity to my own interior life and how my thoughts, emotions and actions are in play at any given time. It has made me appreciate the energy that makes us go and has given me a framework for understanding why sometimes I feel low or get run down and how to proactively build my reserves. (For the record, I don't think yoga is the only way to achieve this, but for me it has been an effective, holistic tool set. )
In ancient times, yoga was passed down from teacher to student. There were variations depending on who you studied under. Here and now there are lots of yoga studios, which tend to have the flavor of the owner's yoga practice. As for me, I mostly study with Shanon Buffington--who I met on the recommendation of friends who had taken her teacher training.
Shanon and I meet for a private lesson a couple of times a year and she helps me craft my personal practice to accomplish what I want to accomplish. (As a sidebar, Shanon studies with her teacher, Rod Stryker a couple of times a year on her personal practice, and Rod studies with his teacher Panditji. I love it that a tenet of yoga is that you never stop learning.)
I've become a yoga geek in that I enjoy reading the books written by the people who brought yoga to the US. (Indra Devi, BKS Iyengar and TKV Desikachar are favorites. All studied under the same teacher.) I also am easily enamored of yoga gear and jewelry. However, at the end of the day it isn't about reading or props or classes. It is about practice.
Consistently, over time and without break.