Although a lot of what I teach gets described as gentle, beginners, easy, to me, it is powerful work, that comes when the mind is comfortable to be still and there is real acceptance of the body. To relax and rest the body and mind when we live in a time of pushing hard, trying to be 'better' (better as defined by our society rather than our own beliefs and knowledge) is not only necessary but it is radical.
Too easy it is to turn yoga into another gym class, slotted in between aerobics and body pump, another thing to tick off the increasingly exhausting to do list. I have nothing against exercise classes, but yoga is not another workout. Sure you get the opportunity to work the body, increase flexibility, strengthen and lengthen muscles, aid digestion and reduce stress hormones, but ultimately yoga is a practice within.
Whatever type of yoga you do, let it by guided from the heart. This is the advanced work. To let the ego melt away, and really listen to how you feel, what you need, how yoga can serve you, and what service you can be in the world. Allow your desire to practice come from a place of love and reverence for the wisdom you receive each time you practice, a wisdom which is being transmitted to you, through your own body, your own practice.
More and more I see 21 day challenges, handstand in 3 hours, even tequilia yoga (yep that's a thing), and wonder, beyond a clever marketing strategy and the chance to do perhaps something cool with your body, what is really being taught? Where is the tremendous depth, the huge insight, and the possibility for real transformation? If yoga is only about long hamstrings and a flexible spine then I would have given up a long time ago because my body has got pretty good at holding onto a lot of tension and fear over the years, and I will probably have to keep stretching it and releasing it for the rest of my life.
That is the practice - your day to day commitment to not just 'getting on the mat', but to living with awareness. To observing your relationships, how you behave at work or at the gym, how you respond to road rage, all of these things: this is the yoga. Noticing that the body is achy, or ill, or tired, and responding to that, not complaining or resenting. Not getting frustrated because you can't do the posture you so easily did last week: just let all of that go, right now, and notice how light you feel.
This isn't an anti-asana stance by the way. Yoga asana (the posture work) has changed my body and my life. I love asana, the variety of asana availability, how different types of asana suit my body day in and day out, and I love knowing how much there is to learn continuously about my body, and my thoughts and feelings about my body.
When yoga is a workout, we often bring those attitudes so often associated with working out to practice - push harder, no pain no gain, and my most recent favourite, 'unless you puke, faint or die - keep going'. These might work in a HIIT class sure, but yoga? No way. Fundamentally no. Not ever.
When we come to yoga in this way we bring feelings of hatred, of loathing, of punishment, and this only takes us further away from what brings us true happiness, and that is contentment and acceptance for ourselves just as we are, right now. We realise everything is fleeting, everything is changing, and by moving and stretching the body we feel into those stubborn bits which are refusing to change. You know, the tight bits, the achy bits, the stiff bits. There is a message for you there, my friend. Listen.
Yoga is not for weight loss. Yoga is not for mastering handstands. Yoga may give you those thins but they are side effects, not the main deal. Yoga brings peace, clarity, acceptance and power to take the action you and this world needs.
Restorative yoga maybe be considered gentle, yoga nidra as simply 'yoga sleep', but let me tell you right now that these practices are massively needed right now, in this world. Over-stressed nervous systems, frozen or shallow breath, and anxiety filled minds are not conducive to any real yoga 'progress'. Unless we can practice stillness within our movement we are basically distracting ourselves even more.
I'm launching a new class called Radical Rest at Yogasara, 3.45pm - 5pm, starting Wed 21st June at Yogasara. This class will explore traditional asana, pranayama, meditation, mudras and yoga nidra in a way that makes sense when trying to deal with the modern world. Available on Move GB and as a drop in, please check my website for more details.
And remember this: yoga is a journey to your heart. It was never meant exclusively for the young, the slim, the flexible. Do not disservice yourself; bring your heart with you each time that you practice, and see how advanced you become then!