I’m reading ‘The Tree of Yoga’ by BKS Iyengar. In it, he talks about the difference between teaching children and adults. Adults need demonstrations and constant advice. Children just do.
Children live in the present, adults live in the past and the future.
When we begin yoga, we think a lot. We are worried about the pose, worried about whether we’re doing it properly.
How can we move our mind back to the present?
The first thing is the breath. When we practice yoga well, the asana becomes an extension of our breath.
The second is bandhas. Engaging the root lock (perineum or pelvic floor), the abdominal lock and the chin lock. A good place to practice this is tadasana (mountain pose).
The third is dristhi. Your focus. Ask yourself, where are you looking in the pose? Are you looking down, at the floor? Are you looking at other people? Wherever our gaze is directed, our energy follows.
What does that mean in today’s society?
Everywhere you look, there is an emphasis on humanism. You know what’s best for you. You decide. Only you can know how you feel.
How do we interpret that in our yoga practice?
The trouble arises when we focus too much on the ego. The voice that demands better, demands more, demands linear improvement.
Do we really know best?
Yoga is a moving meditation. We are striving to practice without interruption from our ego. We are striving to practice with a still mind, and a smooth breath.
Stewart Gilchrist says an advanced practitioner could go to a practice and do nothing but breathe, and still be advanced. As long as they were reciting the practice mentally and connecting it to their breath, they would be practicing advanced yoga.
Asana is just one of the eight limbs of yoga. Physical ability will eventually fade, so our practice needs to live in our mind.
Switch off the other voice and listen to your breath. That’s the greatest act of self care there is.
How attached are we to control? We control everything: what we eat, how we spend out free time, who we spend it with. This can be a great thing. We feel like we are making good choices by doing things we want.
What happens when our control is challenged? When things happen that we don’t choose. When choices are taken away from us.
How can yoga help us with this?
Our control of external things is an illusion. We are never really ‘in control’.
Through the practice of yoga we can start to see that this idea is just that – an idea. But we can shape our reactions as we choose.
Yoga can help us control our mind. Pranayama (breath work) is control of the breath. Asana (physical practice) is control of the body.
Both of them, with practice, help to control our thoughts, help to calm the ‘monkey mind.’ The mind that jumps from one thought to the next, screeching for your attention.
Through our practice, we can begin to change that. We can control our reactions, but we must see that we cannot control our world.
“Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees.” BKS Iyengar.
I was teaching a private class the other day, and my student was frustrated. He was finding it hard to do a twisted high lunge. It is hard, right? That’s the point. It’s supposed to be challenging. But he was annoyed because he hadn’t found it hard before. It hadn’t been an area of his practice that he struggled with. And all of a sudden, he was struggling.
As a teacher, you recognise and relate to that frustration. I’ve had it myself. I’ll continue to have it.
What we can do, as teacher and student, is to step back. Is to simplify. It’s not a regression, because yoga isn’t a progression. Some of the hardest stuff to do in yoga is the most simple, physically.
Take savasana. How many of us lie in savasana thinking about what we’re going to have for dinner, or what someone said that morning. How many of us can empty our mind? Not many. Because it’s hard. Because it takes practice. Because it takes patience.
We can work on our patience by trying longer holds in our asana practice. Some slower breathing. We can strip the practice back. Just you, your mat and your breath.
Each week in my class at Fit4Less in Brentford, I try to think about a theme that will interest my students.
I’ll share that theme with you in this blog.
Last week, my theme was the connection between the physical body and emotional pain. At the start of each class, Anna Forrest asks her students: ‘pick a spot that needs extra attention, so you can connect to that spot and then feel what emotion is connected to it.’
We often overlook this physical and emotional connection, but it is littered through our dialect, ‘I have a gut feeling’, or ‘my heart was in my mouth.’ We are used to describing emotion in a physical way.
How can we move this idea into a yoga class? We can isolate our physical stressors. We can move with care in each asana. We can try to use our body, mind and breath together in our practice.
By focusing on these areas of physical instability, we can start to strengthen our emotional selves.