Hello love – this week’s post is short and sweet, but it’s a topic I’m very passionate about – and something that sits very close to my heart. I teach a lot of yoga classes, and when I look around the room I wonder (sometimes out loud) – what’s really going on here?
Are we creating shapes with our body on a piece of rubber – or are we doing yoga? The truth is, I can’t really tell from the outside if one person is doing yoga, and another person is just going through the motions. There are clues, and give-a-ways – but the thing is, it’s what’s going on, on the inside that makes yoga, yoga.
Don’t get me wrong – I am totally sympathetic to the beginner who is just trying to differentiate her left foot from her right, or coordinate her breath and her movement together. To her I want to say – don’t worry honey, it will come, slow down, be kind to yourself, follow your breath – well done for showing up.
But what about the rest of us? Those of us who have been practicing for some time – whether you teach or not – I want to ask you – Are you really doing yoga, or are you just going through the motions, trying to get to the next pose? This isn’t a debate about which styles of practice is better or worse – practice what works for you. In my mind anything can become yoga, because:
Shapes become yoga when there is a sustained, inner awareness and mindfulness of the present moment.
Without this, these shapes, or poses can be great exercise, and they have countless physical benefits – but I think you’re after something deeper… after all, there’s a reason you practicing yoga instead of going to the gym. For that matter – you don’t have to be in any specific shape to be practicing yoga – you could be sitting under a tree, washing dishes, or balancing gracefully on your head. What matters most is not what you can see from the outside – but what is happening on the inside. When you direct your awareness in, and pay attention to the reality of your experience in the present moment – yoga is no longer just exercise, but a potent spiritual practice.
You become aware of you: your thoughts, your feelings, the way you react to challenges. Eventually, with enough practice you develop the ability to observe yourself without getting caught in the story. In this realm, the shapes themselves can become much less important ( who cares if you ever bind in marichiasana D anyway ) and your level of present moment awareness takes centre stage. If you come to my classes, you know that I am always asking ‘ where is your mind? Is it here? Can you bring it back? ‘ because your body might be in downward facing dog, but if your mind is thinking about the shitty day you had at work – the power of your practice is getting lost.
This isn’t to say that when you find yourself thinking, or just simply going through the motions that it’s bad, or that you’re bad. Just become aware, ahhhh, thinking and bring yourself back to now – it’s a practice. When you consistently bring your mind back, you create unity between your body and mind – they become one. Your mind becomes fully present with the felt sense of your body. If you continue to practice this you will get so sensitive that you will start to feel something deeper – call is soul, spirit – energy, what ever you like, but it’s fucking magical.
The meaning of the word yoga is to yoke, or unite – and this is our practice – to bring the mind, body and soul into the same moment and hold them all in our awareness. You can do that balancing on your hands, or sitting on the sofa. No difference. So if want to deepen your practice instead of learning the next most challenging pose, try this instead: Close your eyes, and feel the pose ( any pose ), with your whole body from the inside out. Get sensitive to the sense of aliveness in their fingers and toes, feel, I mean really feel the breath moving in and out – get absorbed in this moment. And this one, and the next – until your practice becomes an exercise in being fully conscious, fully awake.
As Mr. Iyengar says:
” We think of intelligence and perception as taking place exclusively in our brains, but yoga teaches us that awareness and intelligence must permeate the body. Each part of the body must literally be engulfed by the intelligence. We must create a marriage between the awareness of the body and that of the mind. Action is movement with intelligence. In Asana we are developing such an intense sensitivity that each pore of the skin acts as an inner eye. “
So, have you been practicing yoga, or making shapes? I know for me, it took me quite a long time to develop this level of sensitivity and awareness, and it’s something I work on every time I roll out my mat. However, now that I have – my yoga practice is a spiritual practice that nourishes me through every single cell in my body – which is, just a tad more inspiring for me than say… a workout.
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