So, I’ve been rather confused about yoga of late.
Increasingly, yoga seems to be about challenging poses, contortions, arm balances, headstands and pushing through your fears – at least that’s how it’s represented and how many teachers teach it.
But to me, practising yoga has always been about “stilling the thought waves of the mind” (as Patanjali, the sage behind the ancient Yoga Sutras states). A practice of becoming aware and alive to the subtleties of my body, emotions and mind and to connect to my inner self and inner peace.
So I’m left wondering what Down Dog after Down Dog into Planks and Chaturanga and Crows, Wheels, Hand Stands and Headstands, and articles about “perfecting” poses, has to do with this.
Obviously for some (*many*) people yoga is about the physical side: pushing your body to its limits and getting into gravity-defying postures. And perhaps that leads to a sense of achievement and in doing so quietens the self-doubting mind.
But that’s not my path – when I’ve been in such classes I find myself sitting and watching and wondering what’s going on and why on earth you’d want to risk hurting yourself by continuously pushing your body to its limits.
THE SUBTLE PATH
My practice is about what I feel and learn about my body – but more importantly what I learn about my mind and emotions as I practise.With yoga I create an oasis of me-time away from external demands and stimuli. A way to joyfully fill up the tank so I have the energy to be active in the world.
As a popular yoga meme says: “Yoga is not about touching your toes… it’s about what you learn on the way down.”
Over the years my yoga practice has taught me awareness of my body and where emotional tensions and mental frustrations get lodged so I can mindfully move and breathe into those areas and release the tension.
It has taught me to watch my emotions and thoughts rather than getting pulled about by them this way and that (although I’m definitely still working on that one!).
But then again, a yoga practice to me has always been about working with body, the breath, relaxation, meditation, and mindful awareness not just the Yoga Poses. And to be frank, I believe that working with this honest awareness is more challenging and fearless than attempting to stand on your head!
WHY I STEP ONTO THE YOGA MAT
So, I step onto my yoga mat to give myself a respite from the demands and busy-ness of modern life, from the over-stimulation of our loud and pushing culture, and to create an oasis of calm to watch my mind and emotions. I don’t step onto my mat to add more even pressure to my over-taxed nervous system and my busy mind.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying yoga which is physically demanding is somehow wrong (although if it’s taught without a focus on the breath and calming the mind I would question whether it’s yoga or just a fitness routine).
But it absolutely breaks my heart that it’s this physically focused, demanding, push-through-your-fears kind of yoga which seems to be so prevalent at the moment – in yoga magazines and at yoga shows and representations of yoga in the mass media and in so many classes.
I know that it puts a lot of people off from even thinking about trying yoga.
WHY I PRACTISE YOGA
So, that’s why I practise and teach a gentler yoga, with mindfulness.
Movement with awareness of how my body feels. Movement which shows kindness to where I am today rather than punishing myself for my perceived physical limitations if tiredness, stiffness, confusion, aches and pains are present.
I practise yoga which encourages looking within: to learn about how I hold my breath if I’m tense. And how I can feel so much more enlivened, present, energised and calm by breathing deeply and smoothly.
I practise yoga to enable deep relaxation – to let those tense muscles really relax. To calm my nervous system to bring it back into balance: to rest, digest and heal.
I practise meditation to give my body and mind permission to be still – but also to give the mind permission to do its crazy whirlwind of jumping around all over the place and to watch it and smile and find freedom in that observation.
I practise yoga which works with the mind with visualisations and affirmations to create new neural pathways to encourage me and those I teach to live the highest, brightest, most wonderful version of ourselves.
Above all I practise and teach yoga to reconnect to the inner peace which is my true nature and yours.
Why do YOU practise yoga? Meet us in the comments!
About the contributor: Stella Tomlinson is a yoga and meditation teacher and blogger, teaching calming yoga techniques to help sensitive souls release the symptoms of anxiety and tension and to empower them to connect to inner peace and joy. You can hang out with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.