5 ways to practice yoga (clue - it involves getting OFF your mat)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we've heard it all before. There's so much more to yoga than the asana. We've hard it, but do we really know it? With the majority of modern day yoga classes being at least 90% asana focused (mine included), it's all well and good to talk about there being more to yoga but really, does anyone care and if they do, what are they actually doing beyond trying to reach their toes?
I share 5 easy ways to practice yoga that DON'T involve moving your body in weird and wonderful ways. (Don't panic, you can definitely still practice asana.
I'm not even talking about disciplined pranayama practice here. I'm talking just remembering to notice your breath. Your breath will carry on regardless, in its own humble way, literally keeping us going as we carelessly ignore it, shorten it, and sometimes unconsciously hold it. Just checking in with a few deep breaths, a sigh or a yawn (how I love the fact my job involves encouraging people to yawn) will instantly release all the muscles around the jaw and throat, and some of the other muscles deeper in our body that relate to our breath. Want to create more ease? Exhale.
2. Admire the view
Whether you're on the top of a mountain, or a tropical island, simply gazing down at the delicious coffee and cake you're about to devour, or stepping over dog poo on the graffiti filled street of Stokes Croft, take in your surroundings. There is beauty in everything. The trick is trying to find it. Ram Dass says many wonderful things, but I like this one a lot,
"Let’s trade in all our judging for appreciating. Let’s lay down our righteousness and just be together.”
It's pretty similar to the Rumi classic, "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about", and if there's anyone I'll probably never disagree with (and I'm fairly argumentative), it's these two guys. Yoga is about coming into the present moment, finding contentment with what you have, where you are, WHO you are. There is always work to be done, sure. But there's nothing wrong with enjoying it on the way.
3. Work hard
Work hard, but don't kill yourself. Seriously. Why are you staying late in the office? What do you do on your lunch breaks? Why do you do a job you don't enjoy? These are uncomfortable questions, and I get it - you're busy, you have too much to do, you have bills to pay and a family to support. I totally get it. But if you can find the work you love, it suddenly doesn't feel so much like work. Another Rumi classic,
"Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart."
It might not come to you overnight. But the easier way to truly practice yoga is to find work which fulfills your soul. I promise it is out there.
4. Start a journal
Boy I am a big fan of notebooks and journals. I literally have about 4 or 5 on the go at any one time. Journalling my hatha yoga practice, journalling my menstrual cycle, a visioning journal, you name it, I've journalled it. A few years ago I was pretty low - probably my lowest. All the trauma I've buried in my body, quite successfully I must say, forced it way out. I was so down, I couldn't sleep, I'd wake up at 5am, my body literally burning as I jerked out of a nightmare. One thing that got me through was buying a pretty notebook, and only writing positive things in it. That journal may of saved my life. Without realising it, I was starting the practice of gratitude, I started to take more positive action, so I could journal it. One of the lowest times of my life was also a year when I ran two half marathons, got a job with the UK's number one charity, moved into a beautiful house back in my beloved Bristol, AND blew my savings and went to New York. (Oh my God, if you have not been go. Please go. Spend your savings. It. Is. Incredible.) I remember it, because I wrote it down. We can get so caught up in the drama of our lives we don't always recognise our journey, our progress, and we can miss little glimmers on insight which may radically change our lives.
5. Be kind
Be kind to yourself. You want the pretty shoes? Buy them. Don't feel guilty afterwards. Same goes for cake. Please don't stop eating cake because you've heard sugar is the new gluten/fat/whatever, or because you think you're fat and hideous and out of control. You don't need to change you. But you may need to change the judgement, the self criticism and the beliefs you hold to be true. They are not true. Your true nature is blissful. It is joy, and love and contentment and once you tap into it, there is a never ending supply. You need to work out how to stay tapped in (that's where getting back on the mat comes in), but the supply is infinite. Imagine that for a moment. Love is infinite. Can you close your eyes, say it out loud a few times and imagine feeling this as a the fact? Love is infinite. Try it.
Once you start being kind to yourself, be kind to others. You don't have to start donating to every charity on the planet or give away all your possessions or become a vegan (unless your heart really wants you to). But you can smile at each other. You can be patient. You can listen. You can find the cause close to your heart, and support it, someway, somehow. Buy someone flowers, send them a card. I'm done with the whole 90s ironic cynical thing. Show someone you love them. Nature loves a generous person . . . somewhere in the Yoga Sutras, it says that. There can never be enough tenderness in this world. So go and give a little - whilst keeping your own levels of compassion topped up.
There you have it. 5 ways to practice yoga that have nothing to do with moving the body. Don't get me wrong - moving the body is SO delicious and good for you and wonderful that I am not advocating you stop. Definitely not. But for those of you whose body gets tired, who ache in the mornings, or feel defeated - rather than empowered - at the end of a tough class, please remember this: we practice on the yoga on the mat so we can improve our lives off the mat. We know yoga is working when we start to see changes in our lives - more patience, more kindness, more clarity. Sometimes we see the changes in the physical body too, and it's great to see improvements in flexibility and strength, but it's only when we use these changes to change the world we see around us that we're really practicing yoga.
Ready to start?