Every day we learn something new. Whether it is something we read, hear, see or feel, our life experience continuously changing.
I often say in my classes, that the only thing constant in life is change. How do we approach this flow of life? Do we resist, deny, or even fall victim to change? Do we focus on or get scared by the fact that we’re getting older, every day? Or, do we embrace the unknown and practice finding harmony within life? The choice is always up to us. Yoga has empowered me to remember this, time and time again.
Through the practice of yoga, we have the opportunity to slow down and look closely at our attitude towards life. The word yoga means to yoke or to unite all parts of ourselves from our inhales and exhales, to the mind and body, to the whole concept of who we think we are (often referred to as the small ‘self) with who we truly are (the big, divine ‘Self’). Through conscious breathing and inner focus, we gain the awareness of our current state – mind, body, spirit. This self-awareness is the first of many benefits that keep up actively participating in the play of life.
Once a yoga practitioner begins to study their own self – strengths, weaknesses, false beliefs – a choice is presented. Do I continue to dig in and see what else I can uncover? Or do I try to forget and go back to my old ways? If the student decides to continue this self-journey, it will be the biggest gift that they can ever give to themselves. Ultimately, by choosing to practice yoga for the sake of self-discovery, this is a gift to the entire cosmos. When an individual decides to enhance their quality of life, virtuous characteristics arise such as compassion, understanding and peace.
Yoga is not about competition, but rather about co-operation with all that your body and mind tell you each time you step onto your yoga mat. By taking time to centre yourself at the beginning of class and bringing focus to the breath, your nervous system will settle and blood will flow much easier throughout your body. When the body is relaxed, the mind is happy to follow and the mind will learn to relax and let go as well. All it takes is practice and some patience – sometimes a lot of patience – but the journey is well worth it.
By synchronizing our conscious breath with movements of the body, the mind starts to focus on what is actually going on. We begin to ‘yoke’ or ‘unite’. Often the mind runs wild like a monkey and the body gets so worn out with all the worry, frustration, and impatience. Simply allowing the breath to lead the way re-connects us to our innate freedom. This is yoga. Although the concepts are all quite simple, this does not mean that yoga is easy. Yoga is definitely a process and it is through the process that we gain wisdom, revelation, and enlightenment. Most yoga postures are standing, either with the legs close together, or more commonly with a wider stance. The warrior poses and balancing poses are integral parts of any and every class or school of yoga. The main reason we do so much standing in yoga is to find our root - our ability to ground our energy and our focus down into the earth below. An important harmony that one looks for in yoga is to balance earth energy and sky energy. Energy rises up the spine (sky energy) only as much as energy can root down the legs (earth energy). TheStanding Poses bring confidence to the practitioner, and are very empowering. Standing Poses are also great hip openers, and if the hips aren't open, the energy cannot flow up and down the body to enhance our overall well-being.
Some postures involve forward folding, where the head is below the heart. In these positions, blood flow to the brain is much more efficient and the entire spine receives a decompression. Think about it – all day long we stand, sit, drive, and are in an upright position. Gravity naturally drains blood and energy from our head down to our bellies, all day long. When we fold forward, or go upside down in an inversion (like the headstand, handstand or shoulder stand), the head and heart get a healthy renew. Forward folding calms the body and mind, and settles the heart.
Other postures involve bending the spine, often called heart openers. Opening the heart is perhaps the main reason why all people on this planet should practice yoga. If done with the proper alignment, and only as far as the body will comfortably allow, heart opening reminds us of the juice of life! Love, light, joy and peace are truly present within us all. Physically our hearts want to be open and broad, with the shoulders supporting the back of the heart - not suffocating and collapsing the heart like we so often see in hunched over shoulders these days. Emotionally, it can feel vulnerable to ‘bear our hearts’ in the backbends, but when we practice mindfully, an open heart will change the way we see and interact with all of creation.
When we twist the body in yoga, we are wringing out inner toxins. Sometimes we may be aware of the toxicity level in our lives. However, the sad fact is that there are toxins in the air, water, and food we eat, let alone harsh chemical cleaners, perfumes and hairsprays, and gasoline stations (to name only a few). Twisting our internal organs is like wringing out a dirty washcloth. It is the feeling of spaciousness inside after a deep twist that is so satisfying and beneficial for our health. Twisting can help digestion, assimilation, and elimination when done properly and safely.
Just because time continues to move forward and we all continue to age, does not mean we have to stop exploring all life has to offer. The practice of yoga is as much about training our minds to see the good in life, as it is to strengthening and lengthening our physical body. When a person feels happy and comfortable in their own skin, they are much more willing and able to give back to others. In yoga, the individual does the inner work so that they can be readily available and motivated to do the outer work needed from day to day. This is how we can create positive change – by becoming the change. Remember to stay open and enjoy the process. This is why I practice yoga.