Aspects of Yoga Practice
Yoga moves us to a better place. TKV Desikachar said this - a wonderful human being and enlightened teacher. His father, Sri Krishnamacharya taught him and many other yoga teachers, some like BKS Iyengar now household names in the West. I was originally taught 1:1 by Ranju Roy for five years, a very good yoga teacher who based his teaching on TKV Desikachar's work, and I spent another five years with Jenny Beeken, also a very good teacher, taught by BKS Iyengar in India. There were two styles of yoga from one source, Sri Krishnamacharya. I'm deeply grateful to both my original teachers: over time I found unity and my own way. Yoga is a path which can move us onto different ground, to be on the Earth knowing who we are and why we are here.
Drift & Focus
A short focused practice can often serve us better than a long one where our thoughts have more opportunity to drift. This is natural - our minds like to be busy or drift - and we need to notice this happening and take our attention back to our point of focus.
We have to begin this practice somewhere and that means the present moment - there isn't anywhere else. This in itself is a great help; it means that when we begin we become more present in one place and one time. This is also why asanas are in themselves brilliant, joining our minds with our bodies in a unique moment of time and space. A place where there's no separation.
So at some point our minds drift and thoughts come up while we're engaged in a posture, just as they do when meditating, and the nature of our minds is such that those thoughts present themselves in a myriad of ways. This is when our practice itself may be just to notice what's happening, and to return to the breath.
The breath takes us on another journey. How we breathe and join the breath with the movement affects the movement itself, the cells in our bodies, our energy body, and our consciousness.
Vanda Scaravelli called yoga a joyful appointment with your body. This may often be the case and I hope it is, but it's an unfortunate saying to have stuck because yoga is a great deal more than this, in fact it needn't be about the body at all. You might not be feeling very joyful right now, or your body may not be very well, you may simply feel exhausted... any number of things.
In fairness, she would almost certainly have said just rest if you feel exhausted, which is a good start if it means ‘begin the process of letting go’. This letting go is a conscious letting go and it creates space - perhaps the beginning of yoga and our journey to freedom. If it's " just rest", from a yogic point of view yoga nidra is the best rest - rest doesn't mean the sofa and Netflix, although that's perfectly fine sometimes.
Yoga opens pathways that may otherwise be closed to us. For example, practice teaches us to notice what is going on, and where. When we begin to notice how we approach a posture - how it is for us in the posture, our breath, what is happening elsewhere, our minds - then we're beginning to practise yoga.
Noticing how we are opens the witnessing part of our consciousness, to create a possible way out from our own story, to realise a whole other story exists. To do this we need space in our lives. Asana practice and pranayama create this, allowing us to become more aware of our inner selves. This is available to each of us, and is integral to yoga. If we have a particular issue - physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual which is prominent, then our yoga practice needs to embrace our awareness of this, and in this way it can really help. We can tune the practice around it.
Often yoga practice can bring things up which were present but obscured in the activity of our daily lives. Becoming aware of these and being able to focus on them with more clarity is hugely beneficial, part of svadhiyaya in yoga, increasing the understanding of ourselves.
The truths of yoga are perennial but so much has changed recently, especially over the last ten years or so when it has become fashionable to practise yoga, something that seemed impossible when I began. Not all of this is good : there has been too much dilution of what yoga is. It’s not about how bendy we are or might become, but about the journey to our true self, a journey to freedom. It's ultimately better than sex, drugs and rock n' roll, a dead church, or any ism we might think has the answer, other than Buddhism which does know but doesn't tell us what it is. That's the point of the Buddha's silent sermon. Jesus knew and told us but for the most part we didn't get it.
Hatha Yoga is the name most often used for the type of yoga taught in the west these days (and also in India), where there is an emphasis on the asanas. I believe the postures are now over-emphasised in many yoga schools by too many teachers so they have become what many people think yoga is solely about, but there are eight limbs to yoga and the postures are just one limb.
The Bhagavad Gita, the yoga sutras and other texts illuminate the path we tread, but their teachings need transmission; how working with the breath, postures and certain meditations can be deep and far reaching.
Basic to these teachings is guidance on how we treat other sentient beings on the earth and the earth itself, embraced in the yamas and niyamas. A large part of yoga is how all these interrelate; they are limbs of one entity, just like our own limbs are of our bodies. Everything threads within and around us, as we do around everything, inseparable.
If we could embrace this as a culture it would challenge how humanity progresses (or not), major problems like climate change would be seen differently and solutions could spring from a place of truth. It can happen, and we can begin it individually through changing ourselves.