Inspiration this week comes via Meditations from the Mat by Rolf Gates, day 199 to be precise! He shares thoughts day by day for a year in this gem of a book, arranged around the eight limbs of yoga. On this day, he observes the differences between a young, “fit”, new student vs. a much older but seasoned practitioner. The latter has developed efficiency and economy of movement- work is directed only where it is needed, no energy diverted into sustaining the ego, nor fighting one’s physicality (and I would add, gravity). Just surrender into the flow of life, to feel the connection. Trust, breathe, smile.
As more and more hours on my mat pile up, I begin to feel and know some of those qualities in my own practice at certain times. For me they still come and go, as does my dedication to my own personal practice. But like a beacon, they beckon me to stay on the path and persevere, just to experience the joy if it- and to carry that with me off the mat. This I wish for you too.
A few comments and conversations this week have pulled me back to the Yoga Sutras, and in particular to Sutra 1.9 where the mind state of vikalpa (translated as fantasy / imagination) is discussed. This is one of the fluctuating mind states that can obscure clear thinking and a clear mind.
Creative imagination can serve a useful purpose: we can often connect these thoughts to our life and gain insight. But I think this sutra refers more to speculation, when our mind runs away with itself and we imagine unhelpful things that do not have a basis in reality or we have exaggerated and distorted the connection to reality. This hinders our understanding of ourselves and others.
Here are a couple of related articles. http://yoginiinreallife.com/2015/03/17/yoga-sutra-sessions-from-fantasy-to-reality-the-power-of-seeing-the-truth/ and https://yogainternational.com/article/view/yoga-sutra-1-8-1-9-translation-and-commentary
The first article describes well how our subjective thought process can lead us to believe that we have let ourselves and others down. Yet when we unpick the thought process, as in the article example, there is so much assumption and negative judgement that simply does not need to be there. Once we make ourselves aware of this and challenge our own thinking, then we have the power to transform it. Observe, challenge, change: it is possible, moment by moment, if we invite it in.
We start this week’s classes reflecting on the area of focus students chose for themselves last week. Did they bring any inner judgements about this area, any unhelpful inner dialogue? How were they challenged and what changes did they make? This week students are again encouraged to play within a pose- make small adjustments, notice what feels different, keep what is helpful, and get rid of what isn’t. Observe, challenge, change, moment by moment.
Continuing with the theme of being present in the moment, this week students begin by choosing their own area of focus that resonates with them, and then try to maintain awareness with it throughout their practice.
They may have something in mind, but suggestions include: breath control; release of tension in a specific area (e.g. face, neck, shoulders); grounding; noticing how muscles are working in an area of the body (e.g. abdominals, back, legs, arms); or perhaps mind related (e.g. focus, attitude).
We can sometimes try to spread our efforts and attention too wide and can feel no progress is being made. So the challenge this week is to narrow it down to more fully experience it: what do we feel, how does it change in different situations, how do we adapt, what have we learned? We aim to sustain interest and curiosity in our chosen area: we engage with it rather than fight it or ignore it, and perhaps begin to understand how to transform it.
Applying this away from the controlled environment of the yoga class can prove a challenge. As they say, yoga is not easy. So bring some positive energy and a kind heart to your endeavours as you experiment with new ways to engage with each moment. Play with it, and see what happens.
I recently read an interview (http://www.bangor.ac.uk/mindfulness/documents/23823-Bangor-CMRPNewsletterAmended_Prood_1.pdf page 18) with a mindfulness teacher living with a life limiting cancer. She shares a personal mantra that she has been working with: ‘whatever happens, let it happen’, ‘wherever it goes, let it go’, ‘there is no purpose [beyond this moment]’. Your instinct may be to balk at this, as it can sound passive and defeatist.
But reading her reflections on this, I think it acts as a much needed reminder that we continually need to draw ourselves back to the right now i.e. this moment and be fully present within it. We can then LET it happen, so fulfil the potential the moment offers now we are in it. We then have the power to engage with it and transform it rather than fight it or ignore it. So we direct our energy in this way and then release ourselves from speculation of future outcomes that divert our attention away from the next moment and the next. Our purpose lies in the now and what we choose to do with it. Sometimes this involves planning our future efforts to realise our visions, one moment at a time.
On our mats, we can consider how to stay engaged with every breath of our practice. We may become aware of energy diverted into wrestling with a pose and then begin to let it go to transform our experience. We can then open our field of vision and find countless ways to connect more fully to it. So find a purpose in each breath, let it happen, and then let it go.
All sorts of things can throw us out of our sense of comfort, and the weather is no exception! This can affect our energy, mood, appetite, sense of concentration, etc (there is a reason a siesta is popular in hot climates!). So if you are struggling with the hot temps, reflect on whether you are trying to carry on as you would in cooler times and “soldier through”. Perhaps you need to acknowledge the messages your body is giving you, and invite some temporary alterations to your lifestyle. Simple changes could include better hydration, smaller portions and lighter foods. Clothing choice is also important for comfort. You could even fill a spray bottle with water to mist yourself throughout the day! Where possible, work schedules could be altered to give you a rest in the heat of the day and shift work to cooler hours.
Our yoga practice can also change with the weather. We can pursue gentler, more restorative practices, and Pranayama such as Sitali to cool and refresh us.
Accommodations- on and off the mat- should reflect your connection with your body and mind and how best to nurture healthy balance. Be well!
Ruth teaches yoga in Cheltenham UK, weaving yoga philosophy into the asana practice to help students connect yoga on the mat to their lives off the mat.