One of the most frequent comments I have been hearing from friends and family after returning from India and telling them about the three different amazing courses we did (Yoga anatomy with Gary Carter, Ashtanga Yoga Retreat with Mark Robberds and Laruga Glaser, 300hr Yoga Teacher Training) is: You must be a yoga pro now, a real yogi!
By ‘yoga pro’ and ‘real yogi’ they mean me being able to do very advanced postures- upside down, twisted, arm balances… I did learn a lot about the physical practice of yoga and improved my own practice, but much more important than that was my internal development during this time. The non- visible growth inside of me made me a much better expert of my self and my yoga. In my friends’ reaction I saw a reflection of myself from a few months ago and it has helped me to realize my learning, which I am going to share with you in this post.
There are two interesting aspects I discovered in the reaction. The first observation I made is the importance we put on external goals, which are the postures in this case. Of course this is also related to what yoga is portrayed as in today’s world (check out one of my previous posts discussing that topic: beingmebysarah.com/2016/03/07/bliss-and-joy-the-real-goal-of-yoga). I would say that my biggest gain from my time in India relates exactly to this: it’s the shift of focus from asana related goals to internal goals and the internal experience. It is something I have been working on throughout the past years, but something has happened on a deep level throughout my learning in India.
My practice today is so different than it was 3 months ago. This huge improvement influences my life outside of the practice as well. It helped me to be much more connected to my internal world and myself. It raised my overall level of contentment. It allows me to feel myself much better and it actually makes me want to practice much more. My body and my mind now crave yoga asanas, meditation and breathing exercises. Before travelling to India I had this experience quite rarely. Most of the time I had to tell myself to practice, it wasn’t a truly internal will. I believe that this was the case because I was focusing too much on external goals and developments, less on internal ones.
Today, when I set my intention for my practice at the beginning of it, 99% of the time it relates to my internal world, varying from day to day depending on how I feel. Here are some examples:
- Today I practice with joy.
- Today I practice with softness and love for my body.
- My main goal today is to pay attention to how I really feel, both physically and mentally.
- My goal today is to be fully present in the entire practice. I do so by focusing on the breath.
The second aspect I discovered in the reaction of friends and family is how we relate to our body, what we expect from it and how we treat it. Quick changes and quick fixes are so common these days. Advertisements promising that certain exercises will give you abs within a few days or that eating (non-eating) will make you lose 5kg within a few days are very common.
It’s funny what expectations we have from our bodies. For years we don’t really take care of it, maybe do a bit of sports here and there, but nothing where we learn to feel our bodies and listen to it. Keeping the body flexible is for most a five-minute exercise of stretching a little bit after running or lifting weights. We basically allow our bodies to stiffen up over years.
We are naturally flexible when born. Babies can easily rotate their hips allowing them to take the leg behind their head or do their version of downward dog due to their open hamstrings, flexible backs, and love for experimenting with their bodies. Little children who are active sustain that flexibility and it then slowly starts to deteriorate until we can’t touch the floor anymore with our hands when standing and bending over. We sit in chairs all day long, allowing our hips to stiffen. We bend over to get closer to our computers when we sit, slowly closing up our chest, limiting our lung capacity and causing back pain.
After years of ‘not oiling’ our joints, not stretching our muscles and ligaments and not paying any attention to keeping our connective tissue flexible, people expect the body to get into postures, which require high flexibility, within a few months. I used to have such unrealistic expectations from my body as well and sometimes they still pop up in my head. Through the physical practice of yoga and very much so throughout the 2 ½ months in India, I have learned to appreciate my body, the wish to connect to it and to be able to really feel it. I have learned that we cannot forget our history with its habits and that patience and acknowledgment of small improvements are extremely important.
There is quite a famous quote, which relates to this topic:
‘Yoga is not about touching your toes, it’s about what you learn on the way down.’
Of course there is an amazing feeling connected to reaching a goal and we should truly appreciate it. The feeling when you are able to do a certain posture or when you notice an improvement is extremely satisfying and filled with some kind of self-pride and appreciation. There is nothing bad in that.
The focus though should not be on the final goal, but rather on the experience when working towards that goal, as reflected in the quote. I use the process of practicing and working towards reaching a posture for self-reflection. Here are some of the questions I ask myself:
- Who am I while working on a goal?
- How do I react when there is no improvement?
- With what attitude towards myself am I practicing?
- Do I practice with softness or rigidity?
- How do I reward myself for improvements and a continuous practice?
- Do I practice for myself or to show the asana to others?
- Do I practice with love for my body and myself or am I mad at my body or myself when my body doesn’t do what I want it to do?
Our yoga practice is a great opportunity to get involved with our self and learn about our self. It is up to us to make use of it. The yoga by itself won’t be able to do it if we set our mind in a way that prevents it from having its positive effects.
I hope this post could inspire you to reflect on how you relate to your body, how you treat it, and the way you set yourself goals.
If you’re in Tel Aviv, come join us for a Vinyasa Flow class on Friday morning at 11.00 o’clock. You can purchase your ticket under this link and find more details about the event as well: www.eventbrite.com/e/pop-up-yoga-in-yafo-the-opening-tickets-24321963648
Wishing you all a joyful week,