I’m reading “Light on Life” by the great yogi B.K.S Iyengar. The below paragraphs totally made sense to me and have helped my asana practice so much.
“The goal of all asana practice is doing them from the core of your being and extending out dynamically through to the periphery of your body. As you stretch , in turn the periphery relates messages back to the core.”
“When most people stretch, they simply stretch to the point they are trying to reach, but they forget to extend and expand from where they are. When you extend and expand you are not only stretching to, you are also stretching from.”
A friend asked me what type of yoga I teach and practice and what Vinyasa was. This got me thinking as I began to break down the idea behind Vinyasa Flow. The essence of synchronizing breath and movement and the creative spirit of the practice.
Last week I saw someone close to me and my family who is dying imminently of cancer, he doesn’t have long and it’s incredibly sad. For this reason and for my own experience last year as well as the work I am doing as yoga teacher at Marie Curie I have decided to run a half marathon to raise some cash.
It got me thinking as I embark on my training…. Vinyasa and marathons have lots in common. Someone new to yoga is very unlikely to bust out into an advanced headstand variation, hanuman (splits) or an arm balance. It takes time, practice and dedication. In our Vinyasa practice we work with intelligent sequencing to reach a “peak” pose. We work slowly and carefully to allow the muscles to be fully open to reach that pose.
As I stepped into my trainers, took a breath and faced the fear of running 13 miles it came to me… step by step, intelligent sequencing, training and dedication, I will get there.
With a 12 year dedicated yoga practice, only this month have I locked down pincha mayurasana (forearm stand). I’ve watched others in my classes and training fly up into the pose with ease but I didn’t give up, I focused and worked on in my daily practice.
So three lessons I take from this…… 1.Santosha (contentment), be happy with what you have and where you are. 2. Never give up. 3. Seize the day none of us know what’s around the corner.
What happens as we get older and our bodies can no longer do the things that they used to do? Right now I am the strongest and most flexible that I have ever been but a year ago it was a very different story. I was in hospital desperately ill, loosing weight muscle and strength fast. My teacher when she first saw me after the dramatic weight loss assured me that my body would get strong again and it wouldn’t take long. She was right but for 5 months I had to completely change my practice, adopt a more yin style . I focused a huge part of my practice on pranayama and meditation.
There are 8 limbs of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga System so why do we all fixate on one – asana? Perhaps it’s a reflection of the time and our desire for a fantastic body image and physical satisfaction. If we methodically follow the steps given to us by Patanjali then the system of Hatha yoga is a science, a programme for us to follow each day to reach Samadi (state of consciousness induced by complete meditation).
Iyengar understands and promotes the idea of ever changing body within the yoga context. What one man can do in his 20’s he may not be able to do in his 80’s .
Yoga asanas were designed to aid us in the last four stages of Patanjali’s yoga system Pratyahara, Dharana , Dhyana, Samadhi, ultimately meditation. I was unable to practice in my usual dynamic way so I focused on the other 7 limbs of yoga. By doing this I felt more in tune with my body, my environment, my mind whilst still very much practicing yoga.
I now teach to cancer patients , some of whom are really ill and in lots of pain. The classes focus on going within, to their souls (atman), journeying in allows them to see their bodies are more than the disease. Yoga is not a cure but a wonderful healer.
After 12 years of yoga practice I now incorporate the ashtanga primary series twice a week into my Sadhana. There are a few reasons for this. After being so weak last year I am determined to be strong. The discipline and routine is good not only for the body but the mind. I think to practice the primary series safely perhaps you already need to be strong.
The lesson I take from this is we never know what is around the corner. Practice changes as the body changes and it’s important to remember this in our teaching as well as our own practice. I think the key is to remember our goal in yoga and do our best to practice all 8 limbs; Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi and continue our journey inwards to our true selves or atman.
I recently went to the west coast of America. Initially for work, which lead to a road trip, lots of yoga workshops and me getting engaged.
In all honesty, all of the teachers that I came across and all of the workshops that I took blew my mind but one really stood out. Rusty Wells in San Fransisco. If any of you have had the good fortune to go to one of his classes you will know what I mean. Class takes place in a big spacious warehouse, huge in fact! For some reason, I felt nervous before class. It stated L2-3, absolutely no beginners and I guess it made me question my ability.
So I went in and put my mat down, more people came in, then more and then some more. It was like being in India, there must have been 250 of us. The heaters were on and lots of folk next to each other.
I felt flighty and ungrounded. I was thinking about everyone else and not me and my practice. Drums began. Drumming and chanting for 20 minutes to start the class was really very beautiful, rhythmic and tribal. We began and still my mind wondered, my eyes too. Then the words “drishti” were said and everything changed, it all clicked. I began my journey inwards and had the most incredible practice that I have ever had.
Drishti literally means or focused gaze, is a means for developing concentrated intention. Yoga is an ancient science, tried and tested over thousands of years and there is a reason for this. Of course for many years I have understood and used drishti but this cemented it for me.
2 1/2 hours later, we chanted Om and it really was a magical experience.
Breath, Bandha, Drishti
I just finished a 3 day juice cleanse. Why do it? To detox, to cleanse, give my body a chance to flush out and start again, for Ishvara Pranidhana (spiritual attunement ).
I have done it twice this year. The first after the radiation and the second now, as we ease into winter. Organic juice, mainly vegetable is delivered to your door for 3 days. It is very challenging and humbling in many ways.
Day 1 is pretty hard. I don’t drink coffee but being the true English girl that I am, I love tea!! The caffeine withdrawals kick in and I have a killer headache that lasts for a few hours. I have an interview with a cancer charity and I feel flighty and ungrounded. All is well in the end and the evening I surrender to a bath, early night and some music.
Day 2 I feel brand new. My body feels rested and no hunger at all. Meditating feels easy, I feel light and focused.
Day 3 I feel good, my skins looks great and I feel pretty amazing. As I stroll through London I notice people eating but I feel pretty mellow inside.
People have been fasting for thousands of years. Most of the great religions fast a some point in the year. Muslims at Ramadan, Christians at Lent where they see fasting is a sacred time to focus on God. Fasting is an integral part of Hinduism. Buddhists use fasting as a technique for an easier way to enter samadhi (meditation).
The last 3 days has shown me how food affects body, how much excess crap we eat. It has no doubt helped me with Ishvarapranidhana (spiritual attunement ) and shown once again the connection between mind body and spirit.
I think from time to time, be kind and give your body and mind a rest.