Discipline, patience and enthusiasm are three qualities that we need for our daily yoga practice. If our yoga practice is approached enthusiastically, we will find enough discipline to keep going. Adding patience is pivotal- fruit doesn't ripen in one day. Time spent in stillness can allow us to notice subtle changes that occur as a result of our efforts. Noticing subtle changes can ignite our enthusiasm, but we need discipline to direct it in the right way. Change is sometimes so subtle that it's hardly perceptible, this is when patience will keep us on track without losing our way with frustrating, "are we nearly there yet?" thoughts. We need enthusiasm, patience and discipline in our yoga practice. Our yoga practice cultivates discipline, enthusiasm and patience.
This September, classes will be themed around support and energy. We'll explore the relationships between left, right, inhale, exhale, front, back, receiving, giving as well as effort and release. We'll sense how each action relates to another action. We'll aim to feel support and energy within held static postures and we may feel one movement giving rise to another and offering momentum in sequences.
When a series of actions are purposefully linked the body can offer support to the breath and the breath can offer support to the body.
The body and breath are the support of the mind. The mind gives energy or prana to the body. "Energy flows where attention goes."
Arguably the most famous of the ancient yoga texts is Patanjali’s yoga sutras which is a set of statements that weave together many practices and theories about the aim of yoga. Within the yoga sutras, there is a famous section, it comes in part two and we tend to refer to this section as “the eight limbs of yoga.” It’s known in Sanskrit as Ashstanga yoga. The practice of cleanliness or saucha is one of the niyamas. The niyamas are ritual or habitual observances that support us in calming our turbulent mind which is bound to be good for our individuated health. Cleanliness is practical, it keeps our bodies clean and healthy, but also it keeps our environment clean too and that supports the beings around us. Cleanliness leads to compassion, buy keeping our bodies and immediate environment gently clean in a natural way. With saucha/cleanliness we protect the people around us as well as ourselves, and they, in turn, are inclined to do the same for us.
Yet in these current times, we’ve started to feel that cleanliness is harsh because we need to separate ourselves from one another physically with partitions and masks and our health is being monitored. Yoga aims to be a bridge across disconnecting divides with its practices. It sometimes feels, these days, as if the gap between us all is getting wider and the disconnect is getting stronger as we all try to avoid COVID contamination.
I’ve been out and about this week and I’ve found myself behind barriers of protection all the time. I’ve put on my mask but I’ve started to feel resentment and mistrust and I’ve found that communication with other people is troublesome.
I’ve contemplated the part of the 8 limbs of yoga which is cleanliness/Saucha because it’s so prevalent in the whole consciousness and the global community and I’ve realised that when I put on my mask it’s a display of compassion for others rather than a shield to hide behind in fear, and then fear of the rules of 2020 abate. Fear is one of the 5 causes of suffering in yoga, they are called pancha Klesha. The guides offered to us in the 8 limbs of yoga are aiming to lift or dissolve these five afflictions, known as klesha because these klesha prevent us from knowing our essential, eternal nature.
Concentration or Dharana is another of the 8 limbs of yoga that support us on our life’s journey, so when I’m washing my hands now so often and so long, I try to focus on ahimsa or non-harming and feel that this act is a gesture of compassion towards others, but I’ll also trust that it is keeping me safe too.
The yamas, or rules of personal responsibility that support society are, in brief;
3. Not stealing,
4. Loving connectivity without lust,
5. Living moderately without greed.
The niyamas or rules of personal responsibility that support the individual are, in brief;
2. Resting with what you have,
3. Actively attending to all the 8 limbs regardless of how motivated you feel, or you could call it discipline.
4. Studying the 8 limbs and/or being thoughtful about your responses.
5. Trusting the wisdom that the 8 limbs of yoga was sourced from.
The yamas and niyamas all support one another, they all go together, it seems that no one of them can act in isolation.
Fear feeds all of the Kleshas/obstacles which are in brief;
1. Ignorance of your essential, unchanging, eternal nature that exists within but is beyond all suffering.
2. Identification with the changing physical body that is filled with thoughts and our changing personality.
3. Attraction towards a thing, situation, idea or being.
4. Aversion away from a thing, situation, idea or being.
5. Fear of death or clinging to life.
So if we act without fear all the afflictions will disappear. We can act without fear by adhering to the 8 limbs of yoga.
So when we adhere to all the measures that we’re expected to observe in 2020 and beyond, we could remember that cleanliness and discipline are two of the eight limbs of yoga. When we feel harshly herded or invasively washed we could try to look at it differently. When we wash our hands it’s a compassionate act (ahimsa) and we are practising saucha (cleanliness). When we stand apart in ques and stay behind barriers we are behaving thoughtfully (svadhyaya) and practising tapas (discipline).If we rest within what we experience (samtosa) then we’ll be practising yoga fully.
It's necessary to have a functioning sympathetic nervous system, but the ability to urgently run at extraordinary speed, lift boulders with super human strength, or fight an opponent to the death are not needed nearly so often as our mind believes.
At first the slow movements and focused calm breathing of hatha yoga can be challenging; the mind is so embroiled in the sympathetic nervous system that it often resists any dismantling of tension and further boundaries are put up in attempts to protect against the howling tempest of thoughts.
In yoga we patiently remove resistances and allow a purposeful, therapeutic slowing down. Instinctive reactions are for immediate survival situations- measured responses enable healing circumstances. We promote healing by entering a parasympathetic state through yoga.
A morning yoga practice can set us up on the right track for the day and enable us to go with the flow. Yoga is a discipline, but disciplines can be nourishing or punishing. You'll know if you've punished yourself because you'll feel as if you've slumped out of bed and forced the living daylights out of yourself. If you've nurtured yourself you'll rise above any reluctance to get out of bed and you'll ease yourself into daytime with gentle morning rituals. Nurturing yoga routines can ready you to receive the onslaught of sensory stimulus that's bound to happen during the waking hours; the chances of mental, physical or emotional indigestion are minimised by practicing yoga before breakfast.
We're not aiming to vanquish our ego in the practice of yoga, instead we can let it settle peacefully within ourselves with no fear of banishment. Our subtle and vital energy (prana) will then be able to flow throughout our whole body with no holding places to restrict it; no part of us is disconnected from our practice. With yoga, we're encouraged to liberate ourselves from our ego's striving need to succeed over everything, and also we liberate ourselves from any fear of rejection that the ego holds onto - we are free to be creative individuals. With yoga, we are uniquely integrated and our ego is at peace.
We encourage our spine to undulate with the flow of our breath in yoga. If we study these graceful, slinking movements in our body it can help the erratic and sometimes irrational waves of the mind grow calm. If we aim to be attentive to our posture and breathing within yoga practices, then we can promote a sublime feeling within ourselves, whilst still being down to earth. Yoga helps us deal with reality because its methods are divine.
Our mind is constantly twisting and turning as it creates colourful patterns as a result of received information. We're subject to huge amounts of sensory stimulus all day, and it's hard to manage the kaleidoscope patterns that our mind creates as a result.
It can be useful to focus on the fire element, called agni, in our yoga practice. Fire is naturally at home around the naval area which is the place where the inhale and the exhale engage.
Fire, as an element in the body, governs digestion, which refers to not just food, but anything that we take in through our senses. Agni/fire helps us to become receptive without getting upset.
Fire helps us transform information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. When we establish a yoga practise, we can avoid upset by becoming both receptive and discerning; we can sense when to act, how to act and what to leave behind. As a result of tending to our digestive fire, our kaleidoscope mind can stop twisting and turning in ever more elaborate patterns. If we focus on the flame of agni our mind can digest the day's stimulus well and experience some replenishing calm in the night.
Total absorption within the breath is rare. Some of us feel as if we've never experienced a time when we lose the sense of ourselves and dissolve into an expressionless state. But when we purposefully notice the breath, those brief chinks of "non-reactive awareness" shine, whether we notice them or not (at least that's the belief I hold).
I'm a person who doesn't notice these chinks, but I trust the instinct that drives me towards yoga practice; in yoga, I intuitively feel the brilliance that shines into my crackpot existence. My practice often highlights my flaws, but yoga introduces me to a brilliant awareness that is pure, undaunted, unphased, unbiased, unaffected and unchanging- sometimes we refer to this as purusha. That brilliance glints in and around me during the practice of yoga and fortifies me, making me feel more vibrant. On each exhale I can offer my stifling patterns of identity as a sacrifice and in return, each inhalation offers new chances in life. It's an ongoing process- daily life brings back those stifling ways; thankfully yoga will always be there to shift my ignorant ego out of the way for a while so that I can breathe well and feel lively enough to carry on being me.
2020 yoga classes in Plymouth start again on Monday 6th January for all existing students and brand new students too. Classes this year will explore the relationships between light and darkness, fire and ice, movement and stillness and in particular sound and silence. Our fiery nature will shed light on our old habbits and all 5 elements of yoga (earth, liquid, fire, wind and sky) will help us find new ways that help us to live a life of fullness, peace, generosity and prosperity. Every inhale is an opportunity to adapt, change or even transform ourselves, every exhale is like the passing of an old year that we may remember and learn from, but we are never able to repeat.
I probably should be more concerned about being present rather than receiving presents, but I'm really grateful for the kind gifts that I've received this week. The message of appreciation that any gift brings always warms the heart and I've been totally uplifted by the thoughtful words of encouragement that accompanied the beautiful gifts I've been given.
I look forward to another year of yoga in 2020 and I hope to share it with many of those people (students and teachers) who have bolstered me onward in my own appreciation of yoga studies.
I'm humbly thankful for all the generosity that's been shown to me this year and for being lucky enough to be blessed with the opportunity to experience the life enhancing occupation of yoga. Happy Christmas and a peaceful and brilliant New Year! xx 🙏🧘♀️🦋🕉☮️☯️🙏
Some teachers guide you to work out how to take care of yourself for yourself and they ask you to own your actions; some teachers expect you to follow their carrots and wear their blinkers. "There is no greater teacher in the universe than experience." Yoga teaches us to become wise by learning from our past experiences and relating that knowledge to our current experience, it doesn't teach us to fall foolishly into the quagmire of the next false expectation. Many of us have been in stuck in that quagmire, (and fall back in almost all days). Grabbing at dangling carrots won't help us out. Learn to let your mind, body and breath co-operate and support one another and you will eventually see that it is your own helping hand that leads you back to firm, nurturing earth.
The breath is the one thing in life that we can rely on, even those of us who don't breathe as well as others. From the exhale we might realise the depths of our being and from the inhale we could perceive the fullness of our experience. If we contemplate the breath we might connect with our extraordinary, mystical nature. If we manage to access this boundless expression of our reality, then we have no fear of constraint because fear cannot constrain us. These moments of liberation may be very brief but they are accessible to anyone under any circumstance where we concentrate our mind, but yoga aims to unbind us by design, on purpose and by the power of our will.
If we warp or block the spine in our asana (posture) practice it'll mute us, which we don't want. We're imagining that the back of the neck is the portal of vibration, like the mouthpiece of a flute. We'll try to experience the the harmonious vibrancy of prana radiating through and around our spine as a result of our breath and spine centered practice. We'll spend time at the end of the class appreciating the stillness and silence that enables us to express our vibrancy.
In a hatha yoga practice, our body supports the spine and the spine supports our bodies. If the physical body constricts itself and constrains the spine then prana (our vibrancy) cannot flow. As I understand it, in yoga the breath increases the movement of prana in our physical system and the spine increases its vibrancy and therefore our vitality.
We need guidance on the rules of safe driving when we first hit the roads and likewise when learning yoga postures we may need some advice. But when we come to a yoga class we don't want to be towed along by the teacher, or pushed into anything. In yoga we steer our own course and take charge of our own motor. If we treat our body like a vehicle giving it the right fuel, moving it with respect for it's design and observing and responding to warning signals, then our yoga practice will become part of our body's healthy maintenance. Hatha yoga practices can keep us in good condition even if we're a vintage model.
In this calm state, our thoughts will continue to bubble away, but with a relaxed mind we gain understanding. So in yoga classes, we move the body to still the body, and we still the body to balance our energy, then we balance our energy to reach an understanding.
There are other states of existence that our yoga practice may reveal that go beyond understanding, so in yoga (as I understand it) we reach an understanding to go beyond understanding.
There's lots of the word "understanding" in this post, but I guess you can never have too much understanding. If you want to gain more understanding of Yoga please come along to any of my classes in Plymouth, Plympton, Yealmpton and Crownhill.
Yoga is all about you. Through careful, dedicated Yoga practices we can learn to understand the pattern of our thoughts and how they motivate our habits. If we understand ourselves rather than judging ourselves, then we might be able to replace unhealthy cravings with helpful observances- our yoga practice can become a refuge from striving to fit in. It is possible to find brief moments of respite from the daily performance of being ourselves when our thoughts are outshone by our breath-centred yoga practice. In these peaceful moments our breath is like a beautiful, super-full moon and the thoughts are stars in the sky, still there but insignificant by compassion to brilliance of the moon. Yoga is all about you, and yet with sincere practice you could be outshone by it.
Yoga can bring us down to earth at the same time as lifting us up to a higher mental realm. Yoga moves us and brings us closer to stillness. Yoga cools the mind down and fires the body up. Yoga releases us from the constraints of the past and frees us from future expectations that restrict us as it teaches us to ride the ripples of time within the presence of now.
Let gravity hold you but know that it doesn't bind you. Go with the flow but don't follow the herd. Freely absorb prana (vital energy) right into the core of your being as you breathe in, then generously release it back into your surrounding environment to be reabsorbed and transformed into renewed prana as you breathe out. If we take this approach to physical exercises then we're practising yoga postures known as asana.
When we contract certain muscles towards the spine, in specific ways, it can help to release constraints that may cause pain, stress or lack of energy. These supportive contractions are generally applied on the exhale and they can help to improve our posture and our ability to breathe out smoothly. When we release some, or all, of the contractions on the inhale, we can breathe in deeply and fully refill our bodies with freshness.
If we are convinced by the principles of hatha yoga and we practice with resolute patience and quiet determination, then we can trust that our dedication will yield sustaining results.
For me, the sacred union is the breath and the vital energy that moves in and out of my body- the same body that I sometimes obsess over hasn't always allowed the free flow of energy via the breath and as a result, I have asthma, permanently damaged lungs and a weakened diaphragm. But the breath is not something that I can buy or that I can be judged by, it's reliability is not something that can I can pin down, but I can trust it fully because it brought me to life and it will naturally guide me to death.
Yoga practice supports creative freedom and reins in erratic unruliness.
When we settle into stillness after a breath centered yoga asana practice our mind is brighter, calmer and clearer. With this clarity we can use the breath to learn how to relax our body and mind in order to wind down at night, or enliven our mind and body ready to go with the flow of the day.
Maturity is highly valued in yoga, we don't waste our time striving to uplift what's drooping or ironing out what's wrinkled. Futile attempts to defy the forces of nature can make us stale, brittle and dry at any age, young or old. Hatha yoga practices aim to make us fresh and keep us that way, just like sweet, ripe, juicy fruit; therefore when we, inevitably, drop off "the vine of life" our residual energy is sweet and nourishing.
I love the paradoxes that are continuously presented to me in yoga; for instance, we'll have more freedom from societal constraints and personal hangups if we follow strict guidelines from fundamental yoga texts such as Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and The Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Yoga offers us rules to follow and yet it's framework is highly adaptable to suit each individual's circumstances. Yoga has specific formulas that serve us physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, spiritually and morally, but we're not obligated to follow all of them- ancient yoga wisdom recognises that most of us can't. Practising and following the regimens of yoga is difficult for many of us, however, if you do "religiously" practice yoga, in a way that complements your life circumstances, it will enhance your physical, emotional, mental and psychological health. Yoga rules are not always easy to adhere to, but when we do we're not confined or restricted by them, rather yoga's tried and trusted guidelines unbind us and broaden our horizons.
These days many of us are drawn into a headspace that has no concern about our bodies; adverts and product placements tell us to eat this, drink that, inhale this and drive that. There is an overwhelming array of stimulus to assault the senses, and our heads constantly think about this daily onslaught, which can be mentally and physically exhausting.
Our neck and throat area is a pivotal region in our yoga practice because it's the area that connects the head with the body. Nearly 100% of us hold tension at the neck. Most of us are able to practice jalandhara bandha, where we imagine a clean, rolled up pair of socks held under our chin. Jalandhara bandha connects our heavy head with our body in a way that means our head is no longer a burden to our spine.
In addition to jalandhara bandha, it's appropriate for many people to practice ujjayi pranayama (a hollow, whispering resonance that vibrates gently at the base of the throat). Ujjayi tunes our mind into the frequency of the body so that the mind can allow the body to move in a way that enlivens it- in turn, the body can feel healthy enough to adopt simple meditation postures which facilitate moments where stillness is experienced. During these still moments the breath can shelter our heads from the onslaught of sensory stimulus. These are two important features of hatha yoga that you can learn about in more depth at the yoga classes I teach in Plymouth.
Blunders can become opportunities to learn, but we have to be able to recognise when we've made mistakes, and that can be frustrating, humiliating and exhausting.
Take it from one who knows a lot about making mistakes, it can sometimes feel easier to stubbornly stay on the wrong track, despite knowing it's ill-conceived; I guess this is because we hope to avoid embarrassment.
Yoga encourages us to reflect on ourselves with compassion and understanding rather than judging and condemning ourselves.
Developing a regular breath centred yoga practice can help us to become more reasoned and intuitive, we may be less swayed by our unreliable emotions. Instead of falling down into our faults our flaws become footholds to uplift us.