Archive | February, 2016


28 Feb


Ironically, in a conversation about yoga beyond the poses, it’s important to speak about the poses. How do they fit with whatever else that is beyond the poses?  Why do them?  Do they matter?  How do we get value from doing them?

As one of many systems that support personal growth and fulfillment, yoga is distinct from the others in that mind, BODY and spirit are engaged.   But this embodied approach makes it a double edged sword.  Although the poses are typically what initially draw people to yoga, if they stay with the poses-only stance, they can quickly find themselves focused on competition, harsh judgments and even hurtful self-criticism.  This is not yoga and in fact, this drives people away from yoga.   It is understandable that so many people get drawn towards this direction.  In the West, we’re taught that we need to work hard to be better than others and if we do, our reward will be found; around the next corner or even somewhere beyond the rainbow. No pain, no gain is the Western mantra.  We aren’t taught to find the value of now or how to deal with things like pride and fear.  Yoga does that.  The word yoga means becoming one.   So long as we stand apart in judgment, we sabotage our potential for connection and growth.

Getting back to the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defined the Eight Limb Path of Yoga.  Poses (asana) are the third limb.  The yamas (restraints) and niyamas (observances) are the first two limbs and they are rarely mentioned in most yoga classes. The yamas are the renunciations to be embraced and the niyamas are the practices to be nurtured.  These concepts along with the physical aspects of yoga practice are the foundation for all that yoga offers.

As we do a pose, we experience a wide range of responses physically and emotionally.  Yogis are taught to observe everything that arises; difficulty, discomfort, fear, boredom, distraction.  The lessons from doing one pose are fodder for the next lessons when a new pose is learned.   Sometimes the best response will be to honor a need to rest and sometimes it is to play with the experience by holding the pose longer or in a slightly different way. Either way, we are honing our ability to know, to see and to feel our full experience with awareness and compassion. We can observe ourselves more clearly and as needed, eventually let things go.

Sudhir Johnathan Foust explains it well.  “Most of the time I’m looking outside myself to have my world view corroborated.  The beauty of yoga is that when we become energetically alive, and our mind becomes drawn into direct experience of the moment, we turn inside; it’s a doorway, a new infinite world of possibilities…. The doorway to insight is the present moment.  So, the question is, how do I enter the present moment? For that, the body is an incredible tool.”

So what’s a yogi to do with all this talk saying that it’s not about the poses followed by a suggestion to get on your mat every day and do poses!!!

What can be done to move from simply doing poses as yet another form of exercise to all the yogic good stuff?

~~ Get on your mat and do yoga-like movements rather than yoga poses. That means lengthen, twist, bend, turn, balance, invert and stretch different parts of your body.  You might start with your head and work your way down or do the reverse and start with your feet.  Bring awareness to each joint as you move it all the ways that it is designed to move. Don’t even think of doing something that feels difficult!  For that matter, don’t do any pose that has a name.  Don’t do any sequences that you learned.  Make up your own sequence and your own poses.  Hold them long enough so you can notice how you feel physically in that pose and how you feel emotionally.  Just note those observations and move to the next pose.

~~ As your body expands or stretches, inhale.  As your body contracts, twists or folds, exhale.  Match every movement with a breath.  When holding a pose, count the number of breaths taken.

~~ Stay on your mat only as long as feels right to you and be sure to leave at least 5 minutes for your final relaxation (shavasana).  Use this time to absorb the entirety of your experience.  Commit to your daily yoga practice.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas and suggestions.  Are they helpful?  What do you do that helps?



27 Feb


Everyone’s experience is different as we work through the assortment of options for personal growth and fulfillment.  Yoga is but one option and it can provide different types of value to the practitioner.  No matter where we are and which option we’re moving towards, consistency challenges often derail many.  The Yoga Sutras, as other similar guides, can be filled with useful gems but can also overwhelm.

A good grounding exercise is to remember the importance of the relationship between two underlying concepts explained by Patanjali, the Yoga Sutras author.  Practice (abhyasa) and nonattachment or renunciation (vairagya) create the framework for a sustainable practice.

Making space for new often involves removing something old.  Vairagya is the practice of letting go.  It is the elimination of unhelpful things.  Those can include negative self-talk, self-defeating behaviors, or poor choices.  We seem to be hard wired for a propensity to hold on to things, even when they don’t serve us well.  The physical part of yoga (asana) helps us learn to be present with ourselves by learning body awareness, breath awareness and feelings awareness.  Once we progress in our ability to experience nonjudgmental self-awareness, we are then poised and open to respond differently.

One way to support the release of unhelpful things is to commit to abhyasa, your practice.  That means getting onto the mat every day and it also involves nurturing an attitude of dedication to your practice.  Abhyasa is a personalized realization of your choices with ferocious and unswerving faithfulness to your best self.

Renunciation (vairagya) by itself has no staying power.  Intentions and thoughts commonly are only temporarily turned into actions.  Then, something else catches our attention and off we go!  Practice (abhyasa) is walking the talk.   A consistent practice starting with simply doing the poses (asana) and breath work (pranayama) is perfect because it can provide the energy and the sense of purpose needed to stay steady during the harder moments.  Even a daily ten minutes on the mat can provide that.

Yoga doesn’t magically remove old behaviors or beliefs.  Instead it is the steadying space for permitting whatever changes are needed.   It is a commitment to self and to growth.

Once yoga is part of our self-image, we have a safe and reliable platform for letting go while also being nourished by the self-care time on the mat.

Together practice and renunciation nurture progress along a more consistent path.

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