Have you noticed your own yoga practice changing over time?
Mine has. Quite significantly.
Before I started yoga seriously, practicing at least once a week and sometimes four times a week, I was a gym goer. I did quite a lot of gym classes where I became very used to the teacher/instructor standing up the front of the class on a podium and all of us basically copied the instructor’s moves. The focus was generally on challenging myself to get the most out of my body, to become fitter, stronger, and push myself to the limit.
I came to yoga with the same sort of impressions. Initially I approached my yoga practice with the same intention. It had to last a certain length of time, to go through a range of fairly regimented type poses, it became a routine set of sequences, and I did focus on pushing myself to the limit and trying to advance into more difficult poses each practice. I suppose I also felt that all bodies were pretty similar and that most of us could achieve the same look in poses given time and persistence.
That wasn’t enough in itself to make me want to come back to my mat day in day out. It didn’t feel right and I didn’t feel as though I was being true to myself. If yoga is the union of body, mind and spirit – this wasn’t the way to achieve it. It felt like another ‘workout’ and I had also tried to make it into a cardio fitness session. It just didn’t have the Oomph! And it wasn’t doing it for me. Have you experienced that feeling yourself?
Then I studied other types of yoga like Mind Body Connection, Curvy body yoga, Yin Yoga, and Somatics. These all taught me a new perspective and different ways of doing yoga and moving the body. Every mode has different philosophies on how to approach my own practice, and the myriad of benefits that can be gained from slowing it down, moving from the centre or core of the body, and allowing my own breath pattern to dictate the rhythm, intensity, and pace of the poses. I started to feel the joy within my practice, and sense the strong, resolute voice within myself engage with me.
Learning about Bio-mechanics certainly showed me clearly how all bodies are so different and should indeed be treated uniquely. There is no one way of doing anything, let alone a yoga pose. Aiming for a particular pose whilst paying homage to your own body, and always keeping yourself safe is the best type of yoga. You can always strive to attain better alignment, more depth in a pose, or to feel the joy of clinching a new pose but to keep your own physical being safe is a no-brainer. You know that feeling when your body might be telling you to ease back or that to continue to pursue what you are doing could be risky? Sometimes I can feel that. Can you? If you do notice that back off a little, use a prop, try a different pose. It may only be for today. Tomorrow may be different. Every day our bodies are in a different place just as our emotions are.
Yoga is not a competitive sport. For now I have stopped going to group yoga classes that involve strong, challenging (maybe extreme) poses as I find hard to listen to myself and to not be competitive. It is hard to stop myself from wanting to be on par or better than other students. This is something I dislike in myself because I know it is not yogic and it is not keeping myself safe. So for now I’m sticking with other types of yoga, some I enjoy so much more.
What changed for me the most was I also started to explore other aspects of yoga in more depth, like meditation. Meditation is the most amazing gift we can give ourselves. It helps to slow down everything and for me to realise that everything is always going to be alright. It helps me to stay in a mindful state and to breathe deeply and mindfully not just when I’m doing yoga.
So how is my personal yoga practice these days? I don’t have any pre-conceived ideas about how long it should go for. On a busy day it may be 15 minutes or just meditation. On another day it may be 1.5 hours. I don’t have any routine in mind when I start. I start at the beginning, usually lying on my mat and then I just do whatever I feel like doing. I stay with myself in each pose and with the feelings that it gives me and then move onto the next pose as an awareness comes to me about what to do and how to move next. I don’t always do sun salutations and I don’t always do many standing poses. But I do feel so much stronger (arm balances will do that too). Lifting one’s own body weight is so much more fun than lifting weights.
However, I always ensure that I include at least one of each of the 5 ranges of movement daily: a forward bend, a back bend, a twist, lateral stretches, and an inversion such as down dog, legs on a chair or up the wall, or a headstand (I LOVE headstands as they have helped my neck so much).
This is the gift of yoga. This is what bliss feels like. Just feeling or sensing your way through your own practice. Go where your body, mind and spirit tell you to go. Try it next time you roll out your own mat at home. It’s magic!
For more yoga tips jump onto our Facebook page.