This blog documents my musings on all things yoga. If you'd like to stay updated with new posts, subscribe to my newsletter.
20 September, 2023
Practising yoga within a group setting only reaches its full potential when we understand and emphasise that the shala is a space devoid of analysis and judgment. Here, the practice unfolds without any pretensions or expectations. No one holds a higher or lower status regarding advancement or evolution. We don't come together to compare our flexibility, strength, or even our capacity to release and meditate. In this shared experience, we exist, pure and simple. The alchemy of merging your practice with that of others gives the collective experience its value.
When you engage in your yoga practice within a group, you willingly immerse yourself in a union of energies. Of course, this phenomenon is always happening, yet we seldom pause to appreciate its impact. We might feel stressed while waiting in line at the shop if we sense tension between the couple in front of us, or we might feel lighter after walking by someone tending to the flowers in their window box. In our yoga practice, though, this communion becomes intentional - it is all about observing, sensing, and becoming aware.
You become receptive to the energies and intentions emanating from those around you, while concurrently radiating your own energy and intentions outward. Through this collective participation, we nurture an awareness that underscores our profound interconnectedness. We start to sense how we all trace back to the same enigmatic origins and draw life from shared energetic forces.
Of course, the work we undertake in yoga is also a profoundly personal endeavour that cannot be outsourced to another. No one else can stand in your place and invest the time and energy requisite for tending to your body, mind, and spirit. By dedicating time to our yoga practice, we express our self-care commitment and dedication to a path of growth, awareness, and inner tranquillity. Every time we arrive on our mat, we commit to cultivating a mindset of curiosity, wonder, and acceptance. This acceptance extends to embracing our present selves and the elements we presently contend with.
In yoga, we're not striving to become someone different. Instead, we endeavour to reconnect with the genuine self already residing within us and the force that connects us all.
And while personal practice remains profoundly significant, it's worth noting that sharing our energies within a collective setting can serve as a potent reminder of how our genuine selves are intricately woven into the fabric of something much greater, fostering a profound sense of unity and interconnectedness.
15 September, 2023
One temptation we must resist as we incorporate a more regular yoga practice into our lifestyle is the temptation of thinking of our physical body as an accomplishment. This may sound silly, illogical, or perplexing, depending on your current relationship with your body. Still, it is worth drawing attention to the fact that it is a very real phenomenon in our society. We celebrate weight loss, toned abs, and chiselled muscles as trophies of accomplishment as indicators of discipline and self-control. Yet this attachment to outcomes directly contradicts what we are trying to accomplish on the mat. Indeed, a potential byproduct of all the asanas we do is that our body starts to change. We may become stronger and leaner, and those changes may garner attention from those around us.
Of course, it seems counterintuitive that we should be instructed not to celebrate the (socially deemed) positive consequences of a practice we have undertaken to improve our self-knowledge, quality of life, and overall health. That said, a yogic lifestyle is also concerned with steering ourselves away from pride, comparison, and attachment. When we start to see our bodies as a status symbol we have strived to achieve, we lose sight of these fundamental pillars of yoga. To solve this, we should attempt to see our asanas as nurturing to our whole being, not merely a means to an end rooted in the pursuit of a particular body.
People come to yoga for a multitude of different reasons, with unique goals, and carrying vastly different expectations. At first, a large part of what motivates someone to show up for practice could be connected closely to altering their physical appearance. Unfortunately, if this remains the driving purpose over time, the true magic of yoga will never be discovered. Yoga need not be accompanied by a lifestyle dramatically ascetic in nature. Still, a practitioner must come to see that inner peace will never be found while one is chained to the vicious cycle of comparison. This artificial distinction directly negates the foundational lessons of yogic philosophy - that we are all just manifestations of the same cosmic force.
It may take a very long time for a person to arrive at a stage where that genuine cosmic connection feels authentic. And that is OK. We are fiercely conditioned by the society that has produced us, and many unfamiliar concepts and ways of understanding the world can feel uncomfortable, if not wholly wrong. The latent energy that our yoga practice awakens might also be accompanied by a whole range of distributing feelings and sensations. Even if we sense the truth in them, our social milieu might cause us to shy away from them, lest we become the subject of suspicion or ridicule.
For most of us practising in the West, our yoga journey begins with the body. Regardless of what drove us to attend that first class, a dedicated practitioner will soon discover the range of physical benefits offered by yoga that extend far beyond the superficial. Even if we remain in the realm of the body, yoga becomes a tool for cultivating a multi-faceted relationship with your physicality that allows you to be in aware and luscious contact with all your senses have to offer. Part of the evolution is connected to enjoying your body in its current state and appreciating everything it allows you to do. As flexibility, strength, mobility, and grace of movement are enhanced, a body cannot possibly be seen as a hindrance to who possesses it but is rather seen as what it is - a precious and dynamic gift full of potential.
13 September, 2023
We are surrounded by wellsprings of potential stress. From missing the bus or metro or receiving an untimely email from your bank or landlord, we head into each day aware that our stress responses could be triggered at any point. As paladins of well-being - we are all aware of how damaging anxiety can be. Yet, we ultimately have relatively little control over the external forces we often allow to govern it.
Thankfully, though, we now have a much deeper understanding of how this anxiety arises and many accessible tools to help address it.
The mindfulness we cultivate in yoga is one such example, and it can be a powerful ally when we need to feel empowered to confront moments of stress and anxiety. Through simple breathing and meditation techniques, practising mindfulness can help us process difficult emotions, feel calmer, and face the task ahead with less stress and more confidence.
Of course, that doesn't mean we try to avoid stress altogether. Getting the jitters or mild nerves is expected and even helpful in certain situations. Yet, for many, this can escalate to a point where symptoms of being physically ill or emotionally distraught arise. This anxiety does not necessarily disappear once the experience is over, either. And as navigating stressful situations is a part of the human experience, anxiety can have profound implications when left addressed over time.
Unlike those who experience moderate stress, prolonged anxiety has many adverse side effects that impact a person's health, relationships, and overall quality of life. Some common symptoms of chronic anxiety include depressive thoughts, breathing problems, digestive issues, panic attacks, and extreme fatigue.
No one enjoys being reminded of how much we are at the mercy of our bodies, but mindfulness gives us more control over the physiological responses we generate.
So, what is it exactly?
Essentially, mindfulness is the practice of focusing one's attention on something that anchors them in the present moment, often using breath and meditation. It teaches the practitioner the ability to accept and sit with complicated feelings in the same way that we can with happy ones and provides needed perspective when situations feel overwhelming.
This can be tremendously helpful in keeping a cool head when anxiety starts to set in or when the anticipation of the stress makes it difficult to make rational choices that will guide us to a happier place in the future.
Without these tools to call on, major stress triggers can lead to a scenario in which we find ourselves overwhelmingly distraught and implacable. Emotions are powerful, and they work much more quickly than thought. With no strategies to help us process unexpectedly strong ones, the body can soon fall out of equilibrium and seek immediate and often destructive forms of relief.