For a long time now I have been deeply reflecting on this idea of “What is Yoga”? In the West we identify yoga as being asana (posture). We go to a yoga class and do asana and that means we practice yoga, right?
But in reality, yoga is so much more. Anyone who has been practicing for a while and most certainly all yoga teachers should know this. Asana is a very small piece of a much larger yoga pie. In one of the most important yoga texts, The Yoga Sutras, Patanjali sets out Eight Limbs of Yoga (also known as the Eightfold Path). Asana is the third, out of eight!
The word yoga itself translates as “to unite” or “to yoke”. There are endless translations of what this union actually relates to but for me, this is the union of body, mind and soul (or spirit or self or atman etc). Yoga has allowed me to connect back with who I truly am. It has allowed me to observe my thoughts, my feelings, my behaviour and my self; not in a judgemental or analytical way, but in a curious manner, like one might observe a colony of ants going about their business. No need to try to change it or control it, just sitting and watching and taking an interest.
I have described in the past how yoga allowed me to wake up. I felt as though I was living a life where I walked around with my eyes closed (metaphorically of course). The picture that just came to my mind is that scene in Mr Bean where he has toothpicks in his eyes to keep his eyes open when he is really sleepy. I guess for me, yoga is those toothpicks. It forces me to keep my eyes open. It forces me to keep looking and facing the deepest, nastiest parts of myself and the world, in order to try to either accept them or change them.
Recently I have been feeling a little uninspired by my personal practice. I guess in my mind I had come up with this label that practicing “yoga” was practicing asana every day. So when I have days when I don’t practice at all or I have a day when I step on the mat and don’t feel like doing the standard asana practice of sun salutations, back bends, forward bends, twists and inversions, then I feel disappointed in myself for not practicing ‘yoga’. This leads to feelings of self loathing and negative dialogue in my mind about how I am lazy or not disciplined etc which in turn makes me even more unmotivated to practice. It really is a vicious cycle.
Then this morning, I set up a mat beside the lake and stayed there for an hour and a half just shifting between doing some poses, sitting in silence watching the birds and the stillness of the lake and I even lay in Pigeon Pose and ate my breakfast. It was here that I started to reflect again about whether this was yoga… I didn’t do a single sequence, but I was there, right there in that moment, not feeling bored and wanting to leave or forcing myself to stay. I was just thoroughly enjoying that experience. That to me is yoga.
I realised in that moment that my yoga is many, many things. It is of course attending an asana class and spending ninety minutes focused on my body and my breath. It is sitting back after I have acted in a way that I am not proud of and understanding why that happened and how I can stop it from happening again. It is questioning everything I hear to make sure that it is what I truly believe and not just what I have been led to believe. It is appreciating nature in all of its glory and taking pleasure in the small things. It is making mistakes and being OK with it. It is living a conscious life leaving a positive impact and following the path of least harm. It is teaching and sharing and giving a little piece of myself to every student that steps on their mat in front of me. It is supporting people to allow them to see the dark parts of themselves, even if it means they won’t come back.
Most of all I realised that it is not about being perfect, it is about accepting the imperfections. My yoga isn’t about never feeling angry or anxious or afraid. Yoga is accepting that it is completely OK to feel all of these things, but at the same time being conscious of the feelings and where they are coming from to then take steps to see whether you can make any changes to minimise this in the future. My yoga is accepting that it is fine to have a day or two to just relax and do nothing, or even to watch a whole series of a TV show in one day. To sum up my yoga in a few words, all I can say is that it is being the best person I can be, even if that means shining a light in some dark places where I would rather lock the door and throw away the key.
So I vow to keep those toothpicks in my eyes to enable me clearly see all that this life has to offer me. I vow to continue to practice ‘my yoga’ for as long as I shall live. To keep questioning, exploring, evolving and accepting.
My advice to you is to have a think about what yoga is to you, you might be surprised with what you come up with… You might even completely disagree with everything I have said and that is completely fine, because your yoga doesn’t have to be my yoga! That is the beautiful thing about life…
I would love to hear your thoughts and comments so get in touch!
With love, light and laughter,