Actual Yoga For Everyone
I’m usually more concerned with talking about what I do and its benefits, rather than commenting on what others offer. But at the moment I’m looking on with some dismay as to what the general ‘yoga scene’ offers and feel I have to comment as it could of course also be shaping the perception of what people think I offer, since it’s all yoga, right?
What I see around me a great deal in London is yoga that is promoted towards lithe 20-30 year old females who can contort their bodies into very awkward postures (for most of us anyway). This perception of the need to achieve particular postures to be ‘good’ at yoga is the first diversion away from the true essence of what yoga is actually about. Not withstanding the subtleties of translation, Yoga literally means ‘union’ or sometimes translated as ‘Oneness’ and is about achieving a particular state of being, not a particular shape with your body!
This state of being is open to all, whether you are a size 8, 20-year-old female dressed in lycra or a 20 stone 60-year-old man in sweatpants. Or vice versa for that matter! Every person can attain and practice toward this state of ‘union’ and there is something going vastly wrong with what we are doing if people feel put off to attend classes as they feel they are somewhat exclusive to body-shape or gender. As soon as yoga becomes niche or exclusive then it’s missing the point – it’s for everyone.
Body Image and Practice Image Isn’t Representative
I’ve always been quite lucky in my classes that I’ve attracted a broad demographic. This is perhaps partly because I’m a down to Earth male who teaches accessible yoga – so tend to attract a fair number of other men – but I also find it disturbing the body and practice image that is pumped out within the yoga industry generally and how this can be shaping peoples idea of what they think yoga is.
Who doesn’t want to feel at peace? No one, so the practice and image of the practice shoud reflect that broad reaching desire of every human being to live comfortably in their body and embrace every faculty of who they are.
Many Classes Are More Like Exercise Than Yoga
The second, rather large diversion from what I feel is yoga’s true essence is what I actually see going on in a lot of classes. Now I’ve been doing yoga for about 20 years and teaching for a long time too, and I realise we all have to start somewhere as our understanding develops as we evolve. But I’m really frustrated that the majority of classes I attend occur to me as exercise classes where you are putting your body into shapes and totally missing the point of yoga and this journey towards union and oneness.
I’ve done a few classes lately that have basically just been sequences of moves, which is just one ingredient in the yoga recipe – but you certainly can’t bake a proper cake with just the one ingredient – it requires several elements and more importantly the interaction of them to engender the creative process.
So What is Yoga?
So let’s look at what this state of ‘union’ and ‘oneness’ is that I speak of so strongly.
Basically, it’s embracing the various elements that comprise your human experience and pulling those elements together. We must connect to the Earth beneath our feet, the sensations in the body, our external senses, our awareness of nature around us, connection to our Heart, passions, the deep yearning of the body for peace and rest, our thoughts and feelings – it’s the fusion of these faculties and you bringing your attention to them which enables the sense of ‘Union’.
You are basically embracing all of who you are from the subtlest thread of consciousness that connects you to the heavens and infinite space above all the way down to the core of the Earth below, the feeling of the cushion under your bum and all that resides in between!
Isn’t Yoga Meant To Stop You Thinking?
And some of you might raise eyebrows at the mention of connecting to your ‘thoughts.’ As isn’t yoga also meant to be a magic bullet to suddenly stop thinking? Well once again, it’s time to get real, embracing all of who you means embracing all of who you are, including what goes on inside the mind. There are so many layers and textures to what passes through the mind that to roundly dismiss the contents of the mind as junk mail is somewhat cumbersome, to put it mildly. Please visit this blog on Understanding The Mind if you are interested in understanding more about the various levels and layers of internal chatter you experience in the mind.
The reality is that a great deal of the content you experience within your mind is linked to the activity of the nervous system, so in many ways the mind is actually an extension of the body, and would you seek to reject an aspect of your body? True equanimity is that you also don’t seek to reject the experience of mind but instead look on it with the same Love you show all other aspects of your being and life around you.
The Chance To Learn About Yourself
And how are going to learn about yourself if you don’t start tracking – from the rarified self-awareness that yoga practice facilitates – the state of your own mind? Every class I encourage my students to observe their own mind – is it busy, is it quiet, how does it compare to last week? What’s the themes and narratives going on? As tracking these things enables us to see what we might be doing in our lives and how it’s affecting our nervous system and thus mind. Just like tracking how the body and emotions feel each week also gives us vital information.
However, in accordance with my indication of a link between body and mind, there is, therefore, a very pleasant effect of yoga practice that in calming down the nervous system it also creates a much calmer and stiller mind space. In this stiller mind space you can also attune to some of the deeper levels of intelligence within you, basically, the Soul, or higher self, and more so, visiting this state often enables you to keep perspective on your life.
Preparation For Meditation
So this is also the relationship of yoga being a preparation for meditation as it enables us to enter the deep stillness where you can find the inner whisper of the Heart and Soul. That is if you can find a class that teaches this, as unfortunately, I haven’t commonly found this in the more cosmetic focused yoga that seems to predominate at the moment.
Yoga is a Practice For Life Off The Mat
And finally, the ultimate crux of what yoga is seems to be widely missed, or just not grasped. We refer to yoga as a practice for a reason. This is because it’s a practice for what goes on off the mat, it’s a life practice. Every skill, every nuance and ounce of self-awareness you cultivate on a yoga mat isn’t just a metaphor for what you do in your life, it’s a mirror. In the heightened state of self-awareness you achieve in class, you can observe your habits, tendencies and get to know yourself, deeply.
- Are you prone to pushing – too aligned to your ideas of what you ‘think’ you should do while ignoring the signals of the body, or prone to holding back and giving way to the comfort zone of the body and not opening beyond it?
- Are you more concerned with what people around you are doing or feeling secure in your own body?
- Are you able to keep relaxing and breathing or prone to freezing up when you move into new positions – just like life is constantly bringing us?
- And are you even able to stay self-aware or do you space out in your thoughts or become too outwardly focused with your attention?
This last point is an ultimate life skill, as life off the mat will rip your attention straight to the exterior. So just like when you enter a posture you need to be aware of your state, you also need to be aware of your state when you walk into work, walk down a street – whatever – so we can see the impact of the activity on our body, mind and spirit.
Yoga Cultivates Self Awareness
We spend so much time in our thoughts and ‘left brain’ that often we aren’t even conscious of our ‘right brain’ body signals – this is something that yoga practice helps you cultivate.
As here’s the news – you aren’t just in a posture on a yoga mat, you are in a posture every moment of your life and your body is registering its impact. Whether it’s the hunch of he shoulders at your desk or the immensely relaxing moments lying on a beach, it’s all the same – bringing attention to it helps you to make choices and discern whether the activity is a beneficial one for you or not!
It’s Not One Size Fits All – Find What Works For You
Now I do understand there are different yoga’s that focus on different aspects of your physiology and being, that isn’t lost on me, and your preference can be dictated by your constitution – it’s certainly not ‘one size fits all’ with yoga, as different people have different tendencies and organic needs. But that’s not my point. My point is that there is something going horribly wrong with yoga if it only seems to be appealing to such a narrow demographic, as the benefits are there for everyone, remember yoga is a state of being, not a shape of the body.
So given different styles of yoga appeal to different people I’m also aware that the style I offer might not be for you, which is fair enough. But this is just a flag to say don’t confuse what I might be offering with a lot of what is going on out there in the yoga world without trying it first! 🙂
Yoga is a sense of unity, which through repeated practice on the mat, starts to permeate through your entire being consciously as being your natural state. That feeling becomes transferable as the common denominator across all areas of your life.
The whole of life becomes your yoga practice, dropping things away which don’t tie in with that sense of unity. So it starts to permeate all — your social life, your relationships, your work; it all becomes your centre, your ‘practice’.
When your whole life becomes your practice, what exactly are we ‘practicing’ for?
It’s the sense of unity we feel in our heart, our core, as that aspect of us, some call it Soul, is forever unified and part of the light which Illumines all. So the yoga practice is ultimately about expanding the perfection of seed soul which exists within and making it as big as possible in your life.
Your life becomes your seed soul expanded; there is nothing excluded from the light that switches on when you do something you Love.
What is Love? It is the engagement with the prompting of your soul.”
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