The healing and transformative power of yoga
Often when looking to yoga from the outside people think it is all about being flexible and attaining beautiful postures with the body.
So it comes as not surprise that beginning students often make the mistake of placing importance on attaining the shape they think the pose (‘asana’) should be, rather than really exploring the feeling of their body in the pose throughout their practice (awareness of breath, entering the pose, holding that pose, and exiting it).
This habit can continue for a long time if left unchecked.
However, when we truly embrace yoga, we begin to realise, that we are not so much teaching our bodies what to do as we are discovering the hidden habits of our mind, body and emotions, and how to transform the negative into the positive!
‘Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together.’
~ B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life
Of course there is, by necessity, a focus on the correct alignment, as this is important for the safeguarding of our bodies from injury. However the real deepening comes from within, as the body begins to teach the mind, and the mind in turn, teaches the body.
As Baron Baptiste says, the pose only begins when you want to get out of it! So, if we come out of the pose as soon as we want to, we haven’t even begun our yoga practice yet! Probably not what the beginning yogi wants to hear, but bear with me, there are rewards here too.
If you’ve ever been to a yoga class and had the teacher lead you into a difficult posture (for you!) and then say something along the lines of: “breathe deeply, really connect with your breath” and inwardly you notice yourself saying, “Come on! Get me out of this pose already!”, then you’re in the perfect place to begin your real yoga practice, and to allow yoga to teach you.
Yoga has a funny way of connecting mind and body, and if you listen, you can learn a lot about yourself and how you respond when things get tough. The beauty is that your spiritual practice on the mat begins to transform all aspects of your life off the mat.
Next time you’re in a class, simply notice your internal dialogue at all times (as much as you can, anyway!). What do you say to yourself when things get tough? Do you back right off? Curse yourself? Push on through? What’s your default response?
When we allow ourselves to experience an asana, instead of responding to our immediate tendency either to get out of the pose as quickly as possible, or to just grin and bear it (the ego likes to ‘win’ no matter what the cost), we begin to recognise body sensations, the ‘stories’ our mind makes up begin to come to light, and we allow yoga to really start teaching us.
Our focus and awareness in a yoga class determine what we get out of it. As a beginner (or even an advanced student), if we hear the teacher saying “step the right foot to the right, bend the knee, tuck the tailbone, lift the chest, knit the ribs, root through the feet, lift up through the torso, relax the shoulders and breathe, there’s a very good chance we may just overlook that “breathe” bit at the end, in favour of trying to follow some of the other instructions!
This is one reason I really recommend slower paced, or yin/passive classes alongside more ‘yang/active’ classes to all yoga students (yes, even you adrenaline junkie!) as these classes give all of us a more rounded approach, and the opportunity and time to explore the asanas more fully to really connect to our breath and body-mind awareness.
However, even in a fast-paced class, if our awareness and intention for the class is focussed on really feeling the postures and nurturing our breath, then we are much more likely to tune into the instructions “relax and breathe”, no matter what yoga class we go to.
Yoga is about finding balance from the inside out, so next time you practice, notice what your habits are, and see if you can choose to do things a little differently!