Get Clear on the WHY!
There is this trend of ‘demonising’ Yoga poses in the Yoga world at the moment and after some thought and consideration, I have come to unpack my thoughts on this. It is my belief that there is something so beautiful about the shapes that we make on the Yoga mat - it is that feeling when I step into our first Downward Facing Dog of the day and feel like I have arrived home. I believe that there is the risk of injury in every form of physical activity that we undertake, and the Asana part of the Yoga practice is no different - I think the thing that we have lost a little of, however is just that - it really is only one small part.
This past week, I have dedicated some time to get really clear about what it is that I teach. With the awareness that Yoga has never been only about the physical aspect of the practice for me (even though I do have to grapple with the old ego about advanced Asanas). There has always been, and has to be more to it! I think the current Yoga climate makes it hard for teachers to be able to meet or combine their intentions for teaching physical Asana with the goal-oriented/gym mentality that seems to underpin group classes. It is a hard task to meet students' wants and also provide your teaching gifts and sometimes offer students what they need even if it is initially uncomfortable for them.
In this way, I think that it is not so important which shapes we teach necessarily as much as it is the HOW and even more so the WHY we teach them - then the shape becomes meaningful, intentional and it fulfils a deeper purpose. When I became a high school English teacher, we were taught that making sure students are clear on why they are learning what they are learning every day was extremely important in their understanding - and I think that this is equally as important on the Yoga mat. I think that if we can do this well, then we are teaching students (really) how to tune in to their own bodies, and they are no longer going through a movement class on autopilot. There is deeper connection and foundation for understanding that is no longer on a surface level - the level of the ego. We are essentially equipping them with the skills to seek and learn for themselves. A key factor on the WHY I teach Yoga - to provide the space for which people can develop their own ways and tools for moving through life in a more meaningful way.
This is not to say that my classes aren’t physically challenging, but from time to time, I like to throw in a less intense physical practice to challenge that perception of how we are supposed to be moving physically on the Yoga mat. Every single movement that we make on the mat is an opportunity to explore the inner workings - with no exception - the way that we access this just needs to change. In this way you begin to really fine tune your ability and skill to be able to move with more fluidity within the fluctuations and changes in life.
The WHY for me has always been about how I myself can live a life that is kind. My time on the mat is a place for me to really challenge myself to consider how I have been living and to fine tune my skills of gratitude and kindness. Recently I have found it really powerful to look inward and to feel for why I feel so threatened and inferior to the other teacher’s in my Yoga community and I realised that as a result my internal dialogue was becoming nasty - not only to myself but I was definitely playing the nasty comparison game. Totally unhelpful. By recognising that, I have found a way to work with my fears and insecurities and have made a conscious decision to be supportive of and kind towards my fellow teachers. Since then so much has opened up - I feel so much relief because at the core, being jealous and unkind is not me - and it has been so awesome to start to work on some collaborations that will be coming up over the next few months!
As a student of Yoga - especially if you are interested in finding the ‘more’ of a holistic Yoga practice, I encourage you to put pen to paper and get really clear on WHY you practice Yoga. In this way you can start to discard all the crap that you don’t need with you in your practice and you can really start to discover and unpack the way in which you want to move through life.
MEDITATION ON CLARITY
When I meditate, I like to start my meditation with an intention or sankalpa - it is the way that I feel grounded and gives me purpose or a reason for sitting in meditation. It is usually the same intention, but I do mix it up and work with different things depending on the day or circumstance.
This is the daily meditation that I do, 20 minutes at least once a day, and I literally do it anytime I can when I have 20 minutes to spare. I also find it really helpful when I feel overwhelmed to go somewhere quiet for five minutes, to breathe and repeat this mantra a few times.
** Important: don’t get caught up in that negative thought pattern if you are finding it really challenging to quieten down at a particular time or on a particular day. You might find it helpful to instead, conclude your meditation at that time by taking a few deep and conscious breaths, and picking it back up later on. We need to get out of the habit of beating ourselves up for this stuff - this practice is supposed to help us instead of us turning it into another tool of self hate!
- Sit or lie down and find comfort. Wiggle around, move your shoulders/neck - do whatever you need to feel comfortable (give yourself a time limit
like 30 seconds or 1 minute) so that you don’t go into ‘distraction mode’.
- Choose a sankalpa or intention - you are welcome to use my fave - and mentally say it three times to yourself.
“May the actions that I take in my Yoga/Meditation practice, toward understanding myself, toward being more present and at peace, be of benefit to all beings everywhere.” - Adapted from “Real Happiness” by Sharon Saltzberg.
- Observation of the breath - connect to the sensation of your breath. Feel for the natural rhythm. You might find that you want to control it as you become aware of it, just allow your physical body to relax (consciously notice that happen) and then return back to the breath. You might notice that the breath softens quite a lot - just notice everything that happens naturally with the breath. The pace, the sensation through the nostril. The rhythm of the belly rising and falling.
- If you set a timer on your phone, try and leave your phone in another room so that you are aware that it is not close by, and so it isn’t as easy to just pick up and check your emails (or social media!)
There are a million different meditation techniques - this is just the one I find so simple and effective.