Last weekend I attended yoga workshops at Stillpoint Yoga in London http://www.stillpointyogalondon.com/. The teachers were inspiring, truly trying to live their yoga moment by moment in the “real world”, and like us all, not necessarily succeeding 100% of the time! So there needs to be a constant renewal of intention.
Connection with our breath can help us stay connected to our intention as it helps to draw us into the present moment. Variation in pace and tempo this week, with space for reflection, allows us to notice how we respond when things heat up, but also how we cope when things slow down markedly. Both place demands on our focus and attention but in very different ways. How do we react and adapt? All good stuff in getting to know ourselves just a little better, with open heart, and a healthy dose of humour!
My Yoga teacher Ian Davis recently shared a quote from the following article https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201109/yoga-changing-the-brains-stressful-habits. “As a neuroscientist, despite my initial incredulity, I came to realize that yoga works not because the poses are relaxing, but because they are stressful. It is your attempts to remain calm during this stress that create yoga's greatest neurobiological benefit.” He goes on to explain the mechanisms at work. It is an interesting read.
Sometimes in preparing students for a challenging asana I find it helpful to remind them (and me) that yoga asana is not about perfectly executing the poses. The work is being done in the figuring out and being okay with that: learning to coordinate movement, noticing what needs to work and what doesn’t, monitoring your efforts with the breath, reflecting on your attitude and feelings.
Some students begin yoga but they are disappointed in their performance and give up quickly. They blame their body and yet it is their mind state where they face their greatest challenge. Yoga exposes you to yourself, and this can be a hard thing to see.
Also consider this: if you feel you have mastered a yoga pose (or anything), it may be time to ditch it and give yourself a new challenge. Or time to question your sense of self mastery and perhaps discover you have only just scratched the surface of it. All with a sense of equanimity, no recrimination, no judgement. Calm amidst the chaos. What’s not to like??
Last week’s class theme was inspired by Liz Huntley in Elephant Journal. (http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/11/words-to-breathe-by-10-poems-to-ignite-your-yoga-practice-liz-huntly/). On the theme of trust, she chose the poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann:
“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
Her reflections on this poem are to “Endeavour, in your practice (and your life), to do what you intuit is best, or to follow the sound advice of others. And know, still, that you will make mistakes and that good fortune will not always appear to be on your side.”
An injury, a pose that is eternally frustrating, an experience with a teacher that irritates you, are lessons that become threads in the strong weave of your practice. In yoga (in life), we do our best to stay the course, but we also trust the wind to carry us home.” My further thought on this: let your breath be that wind that guides you home, back to your centre.
Breath control is regularly referred to in our yoga asana classes: let the breath initiate and capture movement. Perhaps it can help to think of the breath as a needle that pulls the thread of the movement to create a single stitch. The moment the thread is completely pulled through, that breath finishes. The needle then changes direction as we then pull through the next movement. So we need to orchestrate the pace of the movement with the pace of the breath. Too fast and the thread may snag or break. Too slow, and we run out of air before we have completed the stitch. And so, breath by breath, we weave together our practice.
Intermittently, we can pause movement, stay with the breath, and gaze at a distance to review our work. Does the tension in the weave vary where we rushed or lost concentration, were there places where it felt just right? Did the breath and movement separate and we had to re-thread the needle?
Both the weaving and the reviewing are necessary and vital acts in creating our own personal tapestry. We have choices to change pattern, colour, texture, to make it stronger or more supple. At times, we may want to ask advice, gain a trusted opinion.
The stitches we weave are but one part of a universe-wide tapestry, too large to gaze upon but there nonetheless. It connects us all and we all are a part of it. When we learn, teach, share, laugh, love, care, we experience this, and the tapestry grows more beautiful and more resilient. So make your stitches count, one breath at a time.
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.