Yoga includes singing mantras?
Yoga gets into philosophy?
Yoga includes diet and cleansing?
…Just a few of the things a yoga teacher in training might get asked when someone demands incredulously why it takes at least 200 hours of study to become a yoga teacher. The fact of the matter is despite it being a commonly known word in most societies, it is largely misunderstood.
Let me tell you a story….
Photo by Ekrem Osmanoglu from Pexels
Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, there was a medicine man called Huw Man. He was part of a small community, living off the seasonal offerings of the land, in rhythm with the sun and moon. He would sit and watch with reverence each morning as the first light of the sun, glimmered below the horizon, ascending to spill over the landscape in all its fiery glory. He was constantly active; walking every day and swimming in the river, and he was emotionally free - laughing when he was happy, crying when he was sad.
He lived happily ever after; physically fit and active to the end of his days. The end…or not…
Thousands of years later Huw Man was reincarnated, this time to live in the suburbs of a North American city. He had an ample income, a nice car, a holiday home, and also a penchant for Hawaiian pizza, and Pringles. He spent 2 hours a week sweating profusely on a treadmill trying to combat love-handles and a gelatinous waistline which his doctor warned him, threatened diabetes and heart problems. Huw would struggle out of bed each morning and numbly stumble through a couple of hours of commuting while re-living pent-up emotions and unresolved anger in his head, and worrying about funding his retirement in a good nursing home where the nurses would be sympathetic as they changed his colostomy bag. He spent his days hunched over a desk, in a cubicle, frowning at a screen and fighting off pressure headaches. One commute, staring out at the sun rising over the city, Huw saw a poster showing a serene Buddhist monk in deep meditation on an isolated rock in an obviously remote land. Looking around at his fellow commuters, all plugged into their phones, resembling some sombre future prediction in an Orwell novel, he was struck by the discordance, and suddenly wondered what his life was all about…Perhaps he should go away? Far away…
* * * * * * * * *
These days, particularly in the developed West, people are living out of sync with nature, which actually sees human beings going backwards in terms of evolution in some very vital respects. Ancient knowledge of living well in accordance with the circadian rhythms of life, and holistically nourishing the body, mind and spirit has been usurped by a new system; that of financial short-termism, mass-produced fast food and other goods, and medicine which treats symptoms. The focus has transferred to servicing a financial model, regardless of the broader impact on the planet and life (and souls) upon it.
The integrated approach to being and keeping well has drifted away, with the side effect of depression and stress-related illness (which could be argued to be all illness) growing at an unprecedented rate.
However there is a revival being seen as a critical mass turns to spirituality, ‘alternative’ healing modalities, mindfulness and yoga as an answer to the rush of modern life, realizing there is something wrong with the 21st century paradigm.
The Answers of Yoga
Yoga is made up of eight ‘limbs’, encompassing all aspects of life, a fact not known to many walking through the doors of a yoga studio to attend a ‘power’ class. To them, it’s a mode of ‘exercise’, with the 7 limbs outside of the asanas (the physical practice) being a mystery or completely unknown. It’s not common knowledge that yoga encompasses all those things which have recently burst onto the scene under new buzzwords; such as mindfulness, holistic health and healing, meditation, diet and lifestyle, radical forgiveness, the law of attraction…
In fact, yoga has been sitting quietly, like the self-effacing brain-box in the class who has all the answers, but doesn’t shout about it. The vast and expansive knowledge of yoga has been re-issued by all kinds of people, books and new methodologies, repackaging ancient knowledge known to the mystics living thousands of years ago, into modern bite-sized pieces, especially for the ‘attention deficit’ culture.
Take some of the basic foundations of yoga:
Breathe – To breathe fully
Meditate – Even 5 minutes a day
Move – For flow in the body, mind and spirit
Eat – You are what you digest
Do – Conscious thought/action, and self-study
These may all seem a bit pedestrian and unremarkable, however they are central building blocks a yoga teacher learns about in their training, and these are things which most people get wrong. In changing the routines we are in or the way we do just one of the things on the list above, changes a foundational aspect of life, and everything that follows (thoughts, actions and results) will see transformation and enrichment.
Let’s look at each in a little more detail;
Many people breathe only into the top of the chest, taking shallow sips of air; this prevents the body taking in all the oxygen it needs for optimum functioning, and decreases stress and also illness. Breath should be full; into the side ribs, back and belly. Change the way you breathe, and see the change into your health, bodily function, digestion, and physical and mental capability.
Meditation does not have to be for a long time, and it does not mean sitting cross-legged on the floor in a pluming cloud of incense. Meditation can be simply standing, sitting or lying somewhere quietly, focusing on breathing or counting slowly.
Thoughts may come and go; and they are allowed to drift by; to come and go without being engaged with – (like watching trains arrive and leave at a station, without boarding one). Meditation allows connection with the subtle messages of the body and the intuition, with more clarity of thought and more confident and better decision making.
Movement and exercise can re-energize, reduce stress, increase confidence and also keep the body well. Yoga asanas are intended to help energy flow within the body, and can be used to clear emotional/energetic blockages. Listening to the body while exercising; feeling for energy and flexibility that day, without forcing movement or over-riding discomfort can lead to greater self-acceptance and self-knowledge (and avoid injury!).
Eating raw (unprocessed, natural) food offers the body far better nutrition than
processed foods. You are what you digest, and raw foods are easier for the body to digest and use than foods loaded with chemicals, excess salt, fats and sugar. Eating well can help your body to function well, heal, build immunity and lose excess weight. A basic guideline is to eat SOUL – Seasonal, Organic, Unprocessed, Local.
Do - Conscious Thought & Action
This relates to becoming more mindful about ones thoughts and actions. A focus on what has to be done in a day, and getting it done, can mean we fail to meet our time (and the people, animals, places, things and opportunities in it) with the presence of mind that enables our highest good. Encouraging our students to become more present in their asana practice, and thereby in the rest of life can help self-awareness. Noticing our emotions, triggers and stimulants, increases self-awareness and self-knowledge. All of this helps us to overcome any barriers we may have which have obstructed us getting what we really want in life – leading us to abundance.
Sleep allows the physical body to repair and recharge, and takes the gabbling mind and ego off-line, bringing breathing to a full, restful rate. The body generally needs between six-and-a-half to eight hours sleep per night, preferably with lights out at 10pm, to access the best time for this rest and recuperation to take place.
So Breathe, Meditate, Move, Eat, Do and Sleep represent the major areas people can make small changes to create positive changes in their life. Even then you will just have scratched the surface; just imagine if changing the way you breathe can significantly improve a health issue you had been having (and all the amazing effects rolling out through the rest of your life), just imagine the happiness, contentment, and abundance waiting for you after a few more self-caring changes in the way you do things…
Yoga can change your life in a holistic sense, changing how you feel, think, the results you get in life, the happiness you experience, your fitness, even what you look like…
So seek out a yoga teacher who will share more of what yoga is, and embrace it in its entirety.