Eight or nine years ago, my yoga practice was at it’s most ‘intense’. I was in my early 20’s and very much drawn to the very fast, quick, and intense Vinyasa style flows. I found myself practicing anywhere from 6-8 hours a day, doing at least two hour plus sessions of sweaty Vinyasa style yoga. However during this time I was also beginning to study the nuisances of a physical yoga practice. No longer was I just doing pose after pose in rapid succession; but also bringing my energetic focus to the different bandhas, bringing rhythm to my movements through the breath, and finally starting to notice the subtle physical sensations of each pose.
As the moon waxed and waned, and the months turned into years, I gradually started slowing down my practice. No longer was I breathing with every movement, rather I was watching each breath move my body in a slow rhythm that turned into a dance. I found myself moving away from a one breath one movement into a slower held practice that could last 10-15 breaths a posture. Of course I assumed it was my age that was causing the slow down in my practice; yet something else was happening. It was not that I was getting older, it was that my practice was becoming more in touch with the deep mindfulness that each of us should be practicing with.
I was not just holding a pose, I was feeling a pose. I was noticing how each cell contracted within my muscle groups, and watching as they switched off to other cells with more energy. I was conscious of the earth energy under my feet slowly charging up my legs and out my hands in each warrior pose. I was hearing my breath tune into the song around me, creating a perfect harmony of balance. This change of course took years of a conscious and mindful practice. It was not over night that I could feel each small change in my body as a new pose took shape. It was a dedication to reaching deep into every pose, every time I stepped on my matt; and discipline to do so each and every day.
In contrast it is more common for yogis in today’s day to focus more on the physical intensity of a practice. One where the more they sweat in class, the more they feel like they are ‘doing yoga’. Pushing harder and harder for fast core strengthen classes that bring about more of a work out than a yoga practice. We now have classes all over the world boasting of high temperatures, ‘power’ within the flow, and even focusing on building up particular muscle groups. With these types of classes mostly dominating the yoga world it is easy to understand how the nuisances of the physical practice has been lost, and many potential students turned off too quickly to the beautiful practice.
As is common for me to mention in my blog, yoga is more than just ‘sweating it out on the matt’. Yoga is a deep and connecting practice that should bring us to a closer understanding of our Selves and our place in this universe. Although some phases in our lives, and even some times of the year, call for such physically demanding practices as ‘Power Core Vinyasa’, more often than not our practice is asking us to connect with deep intimacy to our physical bodies, and bringing that connectedness into our consciousness. Yoga does not ask us how many Surya Namaskars can we do in an hour; but rather how are you feeling your Surya Namaskar?
There are two sides to every coin, and here we find a dualistic problem with the type of thinking that has dominated the yoga community for the past few years or so. For one, many people looking to start a yoga practice feel inadequate going to a class. Instead they try to practice off videos, and books, running the risk of hurting themselves because they are not under an instructor and often do not know what they are doing. Second we have students unable to take classes ‘below’ an ‘advanced’ flow, finding it not challenging enough. Students that, although can boast of doing some of the most complex postures, fail to understand why such a posture exists, or more importantly, why their body craves that posture. Students that even after practicing every day for years, still have a hard time ‘switching off the monkey brain’ while in Adho Mukha Svanasana. The understanding of the great benefits of yoga lost on them because instead they were lead to believe that yoga would give them six pack abs.
Still all is not lost. A deeper connection is possible in every yoga class one takes, from beginner to even advanced flows. If you feel like you have lost that chance, or are looking for a way into yoga and unsure where to start I offer you this challenge. Where ever you are in your physical practice, novice to extreme, take the slowest class you can find. Take a chair yoga, or a beginner slow flow Hatha. Find something that is seemingly ‘below’ your level of physical intensity; and instead of doing the most outrageous version of a posture you know, dig deep into the basic expression of that posture. Feel everything happening in your body at once in that very easy posture. Find the space that is between your body and it’s contact to external objects. Feel your muscles contract and hold as you lift your arms over your head. Listen to the breath as it moves in and out of your nose. Pull the energy in and hold it within your bandhas. Allow yourself to explore your body, and take this level of awareness to each and every flow you practice.
Each yoga practice is as unique as the individual students that are practicing. Some students find their ultimate bliss within the deeply intense practices, while others find that the slow flows allow them to fully express themselves. However it is important that we as students understand that yoga is about more than the sweat and toning that it brings to our bodies. Important for us to be able to hold off from doing that advanced expression of a posture in the presence of newbies less we scare them off, or worse have them watch us and hurt themselves; but still be able to find a practice and challenge in this version of a posture. No matter where we are in our own physical practice, we need to be able to practice each and every day with mindfulness that allows us to more than practice, but also feel.
Practice in Peace and Love ❤