It’s not all Handstands and Yoga Nidra.
I have been thinking about my yoga practice, it appears that this is a side effect of rolling out my mat a lot. What struck me is how a regular practice where you kind of know what’s coming can become a tangled mixture of feelings. A bit like life I guess. A mess of preferences and dislikes.
Yoga is a serious business; a strange concoction of physical poses to strengthen, energise and tone our outer shells into bendy sublime goddesses (which is an obvious reason to start in the first place) intertwined with a mystical, esoteric almost magical aspect that tells of weird things like chakras and, koshas and vayus. Invisible inner workings that help keep our bodies functioning and healthy, our emotions stable and our spirits high.
Pranayama (breath work), When I first started with my teacher and answered the all-important question, “what did I wish to achieve from yoga?” I may have sarcastically joked that I wanted to learn how to breathe properly I also vaguely wanting to look like Gweneth Paltrow, but learning to breathe like a Yogi is something else. We don’t really breathe, not correctly. Not like we should be breathing. The techniques aren’t easy to master (I still haven’t!) but I guess that’s why we call it a yoga practise. Learning to breathe is freeing and nourishing and calming and invigorating and worth struggling to get to grips with, ironic when you think we hardly give the gift of breath a second thought.
Meditation my favourite, learning to be still, be quiet, go within and calm the chattering of our hyperactive crazy minds! Quick somebody ground me! All topped off nicely with a slightly religious/spiritual moral code of how to treat yourself and others. To me, Patanjalis eight limbs are almost Ten commandments like in their simplicity of advising how to live a good honest life. Another favourite, but then I like a bit of self-improvement and good old-fashioned kindness. Big fan of good morals here.
Yoga is now big business; it is becoming increasingly popular and cool, not just for weirdos and new age free spirits that like crystals. Although my family may put me into the weirdo crystal loving incense burning yogi category. Everyone is looking for some inner Zen these days. Either that or they too want to look like Gweneth.
So if you are hitting the mat on a regular basis like me you will experience moments of dread (kunda dance! Which I totally ended up loving by the way) boredom, anticipation and excitement. The teacher will tell us how the poses we like the least are the very ones we need most. You will leave your comfort zone, if you like it or not! My argumentative side will point out that life can be hard enough; surely we don’t have to actively seek self-inflicted punishment! Where is the harm in just doing the bits you like? Or is that the voice of my lazy, unadventurous, cowardly side! Maybe the slow boring stuff is the most challenging of all. Some of us will seek the thrills, need the adrenalin rush and sweat. Some may need to contort into a pretzel-like shape to reach santosha and feel that the hour wasn’t wasted. I am definitely more Yoga Nidra than Handstand! I may joke that I’m only here for the savasana but am I? I still want to feel stretched in both mind and body, I don’t mind taking home a few good aches but for me mostly I want the whole package. I embrace all that’s on offer. And no I am not just in class to show off my Yoga Leggs! There is talk of taking your yoga off the mat and using it to obtain enlightenment in your everyday life. Yes, apparently this is possible. But what occurred to me quite recently was that the way that we live and what we seek daily is definitely a big part of how we practice. It can’t help but follow us onto the mat.
Doesn’t our pesky mind always want to be doing something else! Something with a bit more wow factor. We are all so individual how on earth are we all capable of loving every pose and aspect of Yoga the same. In each class, it cannot be easy for the yoga teacher to tick all of the boxes for everyone. Well, I suppose if you favour Bikram Yoga that might work. No surprises or disappointments there. It’ a safe yogic bet if that’s your thing. Is it better to know what’s coming? Or does that just get stale?
In the space of a day, how many things do we have to do as opposed to doing the things that we want to do? In a lifetime!? How many of those things do we do with resentment and hostility? But in reality is it just our fickle minds playing with us. Obviously, we’d rather be watching Love Island than cleaning the loo, wouldn’t we? (Maybe not!) We are easily bored, we want stimulation and fun and thrills and just more of what we like. The truth is these moments are few and far between, filled with endless hours of mundane stuff that we begrudgingly feel we have to do. (It’s not all skydives and spa days) How many kids long to hear the school bell ring so they can get home to play fortnite. How many people live for the weekend? How many of us literally wish our precious lives away waiting for holidays or new jobs or something we think that we are going to like better, entrapped by boredom. Boredom is not your friend. Are we just listening to the wrong stories? We are capable of changing our minds, we do it constantly that is why couples divorce and friends fall out and people start to loathe the job that was once their dream. Is it easier for our mind to change from like to dislike rather than vice versa? Can we tell that nagging little voice to shut it? How much happier would we be if we could mute that voice and just do what has to be done with equal amounts of enthusiasm? How different and enriched our quality of life would be. Or is it just a sign to move on a sign of growth and a need for change?
When practising Yoga if you are truly present and the breath and the movement flow as one, you won’t hear it. It is silenced for a short while and everything is pretty perfect. No running commentary of how much you do or do not like what shape your body happens to be making. No over thinking or judgements. Just doing. So there are a whole bunch of moves and sequences that maybe aren’t as exciting as standing on your head or as blissfully rewarding as yogic sleep but I’m sure they are just as beneficial and necessary. Just like cleaning the loo. Should we just trust the teacher knows what’s good for us and get on with it? Yoga is the exercise with all the questions. Serious business!
Aparigraha or non-attachment if your Sanskrit is a little rusty is the yoga concept of not grasping or clinging to a particular outcome. Of being mindful and concentrated on giving something our best efforts without a specific desire for an end result. Most of us mere mortals do pretty much everything for an end goal. We do it for reward or praise or thanks, or just the need to make ourselves feel happier. We very much like a little fuss for our efforts. So I love the Buddhists attitude of doing everything with mindful awareness, good intention and little expectation. Not needing the pat on the back. And that special gift they have of silencing the inner critic that has way too many opinions on just about every subject. Going forward on and off the mat, for now, I think I am going to work very hard at just doing. Less judging.
Namaste Amanda x