Keeping the flame of yoga alive
I often use the analogy in my classes that when we practice yoga or any physical activity we have a flame inside us. This could be a steady burning smoulder that lasts us hopefully for the duration of the class (and the rest of our lives) or it could be a wild fire that burns out everything in its path, like what our country is experiencing here in Australia at the moment. Then, within the first 15 min of your physical practice you are puffing and panting like you have just been on a 5km run.
You see, if you have stepped into the yoga room from the world outside, fresh from your office job or whatever it might have been before you got there, you must give yourself time to warm up and ease into the practice. It takes time for the impressions of the day to drift away and for your focus to tune in on your breath and the attention to movement on your mat. It also takes time for the muscles to warm up properly. We know this right? So why rush?
I hear it often that people have hamstring issues, or wrist or shoulder issues. Why is that? Aside from an accident where you slip over and hurt yourself, your yoga practice is not meant to injure you. It is meant to heal you. If you are getting injured in your practice it could be one of two things. Either your teacher doesn’t know how to sequence properly and throws random postures in, or you are pushing yourself too hard on the mat.
Ahimsa which is the first leaf of the first branch of the ‘eight limbs of yoga’ teaches to do no harm, in thought, word or action. So, if you are pushing, if you are forcing, then you are missing the very first seed of yoga, and therefor not doing yoga at all.
I see my students within the first 5 min of practice going into the splits sometimes, when we are only just warming up. No matter how many times I say, “come into ardha hanumanasana or half splits” I look around and see a couple of people trying to go to full splits. It’s the same with chin stand happening in the sun salutations…what’s the rush? Why the urgency to go to the splits or anything else? I’m asking because I don’t understand. I don’t feel that urgency. I have patience. We have possibly another 50min (at least) to explore potential postures that may or may not take us there. We have tomorrow’s practice and the next day, until we decide otherwise. But what about enjoying the journey for what it is?
The yoga practice is a life long journey and if you push too much too quickly, the fire will burn out any passion for it, and you may last a year or few then move onto the next thing. It will also burn out your energy that takes you to the peak of the practice, and then when the peak finally arrives you are too tired or puffed out to even try it. Also, if you’re pushing in any way it could make you anxious or stressed and no-one needs more of that.
I have also seen other teachers that come into the room to practice with me and within the first 10 min are breaking off and doing their own thing, or something different from what I have instructed. Why is that? I have experienced this occasionally over the years and I just don’t get it. I know personally that when I decide to do another teacher’s class I am there to experience and honour what they want to teach. Yes, sure there are modifications and ways to embellish but if I want to do my own thing then I will practice at home and not dishonour the teacher or disturb the rest of the class. Even if it might not be exactly what I want to do at the time, I will not disrespect the teacher and just do my own thing. Also, if you know how I sequence, then you know that I build the practice up following a flow of Krama. So follow the Krama.
When we are in a class environment we are part of a whole. Individual yes, but we share the experience with the whole room. When the student near you sees you (another teacher) go up into pincha mayurasana or forearm balance in the warm up, when we are just doing dolphin pose (which has so many amazing benefits) and then they start kicking up wildly because they want to try what you’re doing, you are disrupting the flow. When one student starts kicking up, then the next student and the next student, all of a sudden it’s loud and heavy and control has been lost. Before you know it you have a bunch of people kicking up like wild people to do a pose that not everyone is ready for.
Remember Ahimsa? Remember patience? Remember you are a student when you step into the room.
If you know me and my classes then you will know that it is coming. I will give you loads of opportunity to go upside down, to try things out, to have fun, explore and evolve. I’ve sequenced with clear purpose, and maybe if I say keep your feet together in dolphin, lift your heels, press your forearms down and draw your shoulders back and feel the potential of lifting the toes, that could be way more interesting than splitting your legs and kicking up. Possibly.
It’s about awareness really, and isn’t that what the practice of yoga is teaching us? To not just be self-aware but aware of our actions and environment?
The same happens sometimes when people are doing balancing postures, all of a sudden it seems to be a great time to go to the toilet and walk in front of everyone, or maybe you stomp around the room looking for some water, yoga prop or another spot away from the heater. Or you leave just before savasana because you have a meeting or something else that can’t wait a few minutes. Where is the awareness in that?
Your practice is a meditation. Keep your focus internal. Do not let your eyes wander around the room on what other people are doing. Stay in the bliss of movement medicine. Your body will thank you for it, and the rest of the class will also have a more harmonious experience.
It’s my job to guide you safely into an experience where the fire of your passion and energy will burn steadily through the practice for that day and many more days to come. It’s my intention that your practice be healing, healthy and harmonious. I’d love you to walk out of the room feeling like you worked hard, stayed calm and maybe have a bit more focus or energy to deal with the things life sometimes presents. I’d love you to keep coming back with renewed energy and vigour and see you evolve into the strong, amazing human that you are.