After a few weeks of flowing, meditative, movement, like a bull in a China shop, the Ego comes charging in and provides the inspiration for this week’s theme.
To me, the ego is an inner voice that demands to be heard. It may be loud and bullying and prompt us to keep pushing ourselves when we know we should stop. Or it may whisper to us not to even try something as we will surely fail or look a fool: more important to keep our dignity and maintain our carefully crafted image. It is fed and strengthened by our own insecurities and lack of self acceptance.
I imagine another voice, loving and kind, inside us, patiently waiting to be invited to speak. And that can only happen when the ego is quiet. This voice inquires rather than commands. It acknowledges when we feel we have failed in some way and asks what we have learned and how can we turn our negative interpretation into a positive. It challenges us if we attempt to blame people or circumstance for our misfortunes, or if we take credit for our successes. It takes us by the hand and asks us to notice what is happening right now, in this moment and to honour that by giving it our complete dedication to the fullest of our abilities.
So these are the thoughts we take onto our mats this week: an awareness of being present breath by breath and giving our practice our honest best effort; and moments of stillness to reflect on our choices and let that inner voice be heard.
There were such moments of transformation last week, so we continue to work with this theme. Monday’s class contained cycles of vinyasas and sun greetings of varying intensity, with inspirational quotes peppered in here and there to provide points for reflection. I could hear the breath connection throughout.
In other classes last week, we visualised our movements as if a seconds hand on a clock (some younger folks may struggle with that one...not digital!) The intention was to maintain an even speed throughout the entire movement, so students were asked to notice if they tended to rush through the hard parts. I could see discoveries being made as they worked out what needs to change to keep quality and even pace through the challenges. Which muscles need to be more engaged? Where can tension be released? Does a modification need to be taken (e.g. knees down)?
Using observation without judgement, we can try to silence the ego to better understand ourselves and make wise choices that develop us and our practice.
I attended Ian Davis’s class last week when he was working with the theme of adjusting our yoga practice to emphasise the feel of it being a moving meditation. I so enjoyed it, I wanted to bring it into my classes this week.
The emphasis in our vinyasas is on the transition from one pose to the next, never completely stopping the movement. We aim to keep the movement synchronised with and captured by the length of the breath. So no rushing to “get there” into the pose- think tortoise, not hare! It is amazing how much time there is for this transition and to bring a more mindful quality to each movement.
In our asana poses with holds of several breaths, there is still movement, just smaller. Whenever we are breathing, there is movement happening. Here, the focus is taking time with the breath to scan through your grounding, your alignment, to explore opportunities to connect more fully with the essence of the pose, in whatever expression works best for you at the time. This could be increasing or decreasing the intensity depending on your breath and your ability to manage any tensions that may be creeping into the body.
The students are creating a wonderful calm and meditative atmosphere in the practices this week. So a big thank you to my students for their dedication to their yoga. It is a privilege to witness.
Inspired by my Yoga Therapy teacher training weekend, classes this week bring awareness to shoulders, a repository of tension for many of us. This is reflected in many expressions which connect the mind and emotion state to the body: “shoulder a burden” vs. “shrug off a problem”. We are aiming for the latter! We explore tools to help us let those shoulders drop down and be more relaxed, which in turn helps still the mind...a virtuous circle.
Using both familiar and unfamiliar poses, we play with how we can make small changes in our alignment to create more space around the shoulders, helping us to release some of that muscle tightness and holding. So in Virabhadrasana (Warrior) I we soften the elbows out to the sides to introduce space around the shoulders and experience that sensation. As always, the breath and our focused awareness help us to do this. We can feel tension melt away with releasing sighs at the start of our Savasana.
Off our mats, we can bring that awareness to notice tensions as they creep into the body, perhaps observing the mind and emotion states that contribute to this tension. We can use our breath and focus to work to release it, wherever we are, and at any time. It is not easy (where would be the fun in that?). It requires us to surrender and let go. We may have forgotten how, or be too afraid to try. But if you practice yoga, you are on the path of self discovery. So feel good about that, and take a big sigh!
Ruth is a yoga therapist and yoga teacher based in Cheltenham, UK. She emphasises yoga as a tool for well-being, for individuals and in her classes, in person or via zoom.