Asana, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Poop, Pray, Move [Part 3] – with apologies to Elizabeth Gilbert

MOVE …

Parivrtta-Trikonasana-Revolved-Triangle
Easing into Revolved Triangle Pose (Parivrtta Trikonasana) at Kailash Tribal School of Yoga

I’ve been condensing two months of extensive yoga studies in India into 5 key areas, to simplify maintaining this healthy lifestyle, back home. Part 1 and Part 2 covered the Poop and Pray part, and now we add Move.

Surprise, surprise … in India, yoga is not typically an exercise you come to perform on your mat three times a week – it’s a way of life; more than just a workout.

Asanas (the physical yoga postures) are not yoga. They are a part of yoga. Here’s a perfect analogy, from our teacher, Yogi Sivadas: “It’s like touching a thorn on a rosebud and thinking that is all that a rose is – you’ll say ‘rose is prickly’ and you’ll miss out on smelling the perfume, because the flower hasn’t blossomed yet. If you only do asana, you won’t find the hidden beauty of yoga, which is inner peace.”  The true beauty of  yoga is hidden beyond the asanas.  The asanas are a way of purifying the body and when the flower unfolds, we experience the hidden beauty within. A sort of yoga perspective on “Stop and smell the roses”.

Rose-beauty-yogaOf course, we were on a yoga teacher training program, so we were smelling the roses AND we were touching the thorns; we were doing asanas.

Every day.

Twice a day.

Four hours a day.

Here’s the difference. We didn’t approach our asanas with the kind of fervid and fanatical drive that we so often see in yoga. Yogi Sivadas’ constant message was, “slow down, take your time, feel your breath, always be mindful about what your body needs, rest when you need to”. We listened, and ironically, our bodies became stronger and more flexible through a path of ease and mindfulness, as opposed to a grim determination to muscle our way through countless vinyasas and pretzel poses.

“Yoga pose is a steady and comfortable position. Yoga pose is mastered by relaxation of effort, lessening the tendency for restless breathing, and promoting an identification of oneself as living within the infinite breath of life.” – The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali

Patanjali reminds us that calm and measured breathing is a critical part of healthy yoga movement, even when we are doing challenging poses. In fact, especially when we are doing challenging poses. That’s the barometer for whether we are overdoing it. Throughout our yoga asanas, we keep connecting again and again to the breath; breathing fully and allowing a smooth and even breath to feed the body and calm the mind.

We also learnt it’s not necessary to hold a pose at its maximum, for as long as possible. I’m not a physiotherapist nor a physiology nerd, but if the muscles fatigue to the point where they’re no longer doing a good job of holding the pose, we can end up stressing the joints (NOT good!) And if we then lock the joints to maintain a pose on behalf of fatigued muscles, we’re not engaging and strengthening the muscles – instead we can end up compressing the joints (NOT good!) Finally, when we’re straining and forcing the pose, the muscles become tighter, instead of stretched. The tighter they become, and the more we push into the stretch? Perfect combination for injuries to happen (yes, here it comes again … NOT good!)

Yogafunnies-flexibilityI’ve been practicing a less zealous form of yoga for years (often being encouraged to do more, hold it longer, “work to your edge”) and yet I’ve still suffered injury in the hamstring attachments and I’ve overstretched ligaments at the back of my knees. Even when I felt I wasn’t overdoing it. Are you a knee hyperextender? Don’t know? See this excellent article from Julie Gudmestad and find out.

I love my asana practice. It makes me feel alive, it calms my mind, it connects me to my breath. After my  time in India, my asana practice is both strong AND therapeutic, a place of even more ease. I’m being kinder to my joints, I’m aware of my heartbeat and breathing, and any time I feel the need to do MORE, I pause and ask myself if what I am already doing is enough, and can I still feel the relaxation in the effort?

And when the answer is yes, I know am in that perfect place to experience the unfolding of the rose flower and inhale the heady scent of yoga.

Next up: Part 4 of Poop, Pray, Move … what else do you think is fundamental to a healthy yoga lifestyle?

Meditation, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Poop, Pray, Move [Part 2] – with apologies to Elizabeth Gilbert

PRAY …

Meditation-OmSummarizing two months of extensive yoga studies into five key areas may seem like oversimplifying things, but this simplicity helps me to maintain healthy habits back home. Part 1 covered the Poop part of Poop, Pray, Move.

Now, let’s add Pray. Our minds are engaged in an almost continuous internal dialogue, moving from one thought to the next – some 60,000 thoughts a day, apparently! Meditation allows us to focus inwardly, experience silence, and calm the turbulence of the mind. It requires an inner state that is still and single-focused, so that the mind becomes calm, no longer distracted; ultimately developing mindfulness and insight.

When we meditate, or pray, or take a moment every day to release from the relentless hamster wheel of the busy mind, we can move beyond stress-inducing thoughts and emotional upsets, and find inner peace and calm.

“Meditation is a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state. It is the means for fathoming all the levels of ourselves and finally experiencing the center of consciousness within.” – Swami Rama

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of meditation is “The awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. I would add “without expectations” to that description, Meditationsince we often find ourselves anticipating what’s meant to happen, and what makes “A Good Meditation”. Did you see swirling colors and vivid imagery of eagles and panthers? Did a powerful voice boom out at you, sharing the secrets of the Universe, echoing in the cavern of your mind?

Any meditation is a “good” meditation when you’ve taken the time to just pause for a few minutes and bring the mind to a quieter place. Let go of any expectations and allow your meditation to be exactly as it is.

(More on that later, when I’ll post some musings on meditation. It’s a hugely personal experience and I would love to hear what meditation means to you, so please do post comments below to share with others).

Meditation was part of our daily routine at Kailash Tribal School of Yoga and Holistic Healing; most of it private, some of it in a group setting, listening to the soothing tones of Yogi Sivadas’ guided meditation. Our yoga teacher training schedule kept us busy; ten hours a day, six days a week, yet all of it was calmer against a backdrop of consciously creating harmony and ease at the beginning of every day.

Back home now and in a routine that is different to the yoga school, I continue to rely on  meditation to positively influence my life.  A regular (daily) meditation practice trains the mind to be in a state of relaxed awareness, not just during the meditation, but throughout the thoughts and actions of the day. And a relaxed mind makes for a healthier body. Provided you pooped, of course.

Next up, Part 3 of this recipe for a happy, yogic life … now, if you’ll excuse me, my meditation mat is calling and I have Oms to Om and thoughts to still.

[A wee note here … if you’re seeing strange adverts (nose and ear hair trimmers) in the space below, it’s because WordPress randomly displays these ads in return for my free blog space. I don’t make money from the ads and neither do I have a choice on what appears. Perhaps over time, the hair trimmers will be replaced by yoga mats and yoga books :-). ]

Life

Yoga to the Rescue on New Year’s Day

New Year’s Eve started off perfectly, with a pre-midnight prosecco toast at home, giving us time to then join a group of yogis and yoginis and chant a continuous Om again and again, as a beautiful way to herald in 2015. (Thank you, Simply Yoga, Andi and Karen). The next treat was a walk on the beach with my husband, watching the fireworks dance in celebration of the New Year, talking of our hopes and wishes.

Party PiggySounds idyllic, right? Then the movie script changed. We got home to a mighty thumping, pumping, throbbing and pounding … words which could be easily misconstrued, so I’ll quickly add that they were all related to the raucous party noise of our next door neighbours, with their 70s music belting out into the new year and straight into our living room.

The instant disco reverberating throughout our house eclipsed the vibrations of our harmonious Oms two hours earlier. I’m the first one to whoop at the funky sound of Barry White, or boogie in the kitchen to Disco Inferno, but by 2am my tolerance for YMCA and Ring My Bell had vanished, as had my New Year Cheer. Finally, we got to sleep by 2:30.

When I woke up a few hours later to teach a yoga class, I felt like sh*t. Grumpy and bad-tempered at how shattered I felt (I am NOT good on not enough sleep), I grumbled and complained to my husband, seething and directing I-hope-they-have-monumental-hangovers curses through the hedge and into next door.  Instead of waking up with unbridled joy for the potential of the New Year ahead, I could only see it through manure-smeared spectacles as I stomped off to teach yoga.

Breathe. Om.Within a few minutes of greeting the students, the routine of yoga kicked in and came to my rescue. There’s something about the ritual of rolling out the mat, settling into a comfortable, cross-legged position, and taking those first few yoga breaths. It’s as if the body, mind and breath remember these actions and receive the signal, “Yeah! Yoga Time!”, recognizing it as the chance to relax, let go, and see the world differently.

As we began with a few calming breaths and brought the mind to a quieter place, my words about welcoming in the New Year actually felt true, not just something to say to create a nice vibe in the yoga room. We prepared to chant the sound of Om and send out good thoughts for the year ahead, for ourselves, our loved ones, and for all humanity.

With surprise, as the A-U-M resonated through my body and out through the crown of my head, I found myself including my partying neighbours in that wish, as they appeared, unbidden, in my Oms.  They had transformed from inconsiderate party animals to just another little slice of humanity, celebrating life – and my anger had disappeared in the sacred sound of Om and the calm of the breath.

These are the moments when I am eternally grateful for the practice of yoga. Sometimes I can use these tools at the exact time they’re needed to diffuse emotions, and other times they come to the rescue afterwards, sprinkling stardust on the world and making it right. Sometimes, all it takes is just a moment to sit quietly, release the mind from its busy activity, and BREATHE – and our perspective on the world can change.

This is my 2015 yoga wish for you – for today, for any day, for every day. We can change the way we feel, by taking the time to pause, sit comfortably and …

  • close the eyes
  • relax the shoulders
  • breathe slowly, in and out of the nostrils
  • release the tension in the jaw
  • take another few breaths, perhaps allowing the exhale to lengthen, without forcing it
  • bring awareness only to the breath, as the inhale and exhale rise and fall in the chest
  • invite the mind to focus only on the breath for a few minutes – and if it becomes distracted by external noises or internal thoughts, gently draw the mind away from the distraction and come back to feeling the breath come in and out of the body.

After just a few minutes of stepping away from the busy activity of the mind and choosing to breathe calmly, when we open our eyes, the world may seem a calmer place and the mind may have more clarity, in a state of relaxed alertness.

At a minimum, we will have mostly likely lowered the heart rate, lowered the blood pressure and released some tension in the body. And perhaps the yoga of pausing and breathing will become a daily habit, not just on those days where we feel blasted by the pulsating remnants of Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting. Happy New Year, everybody.

[A wee note here … if you’re seeing strange adverts (nose and ear hair trimmers) in the space below, it’s because WordPress randomly displays these ads in return for my free blog space. I don’t make money from the ads and neither do I have a choice on what appears. Perhaps over time, the hair trimmers will be replaced by yoga mats and yoga books :-). ]