So you’ve been doing yoga classes a while, and you’re seeing the benefits…
Or maybe you never tried it… Maybe you wouldn’t touch it with a barge-pole…
But do you really know what it is? Most people think it’s a form of exercise which helps you get stretchier and firms up your butt, but in actual fact the ‘exercise’ part of yoga is just 1/8 of what yoga actually is.
Let’s start with a story…
Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, there was a chap called Huw Man. Huw Man lived in a cave on the edge of the forest, in a small community. He was a medicine man and lived by the sun and the moon, part of the network of life, working outdoors on the land, eating its seasonal offerings, and enjoying the elements on his skin. He would sit and watch with reverence each morning as the first light of the sun, glimmering below the horizon, would ascend 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.
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…
* * * * * * * * *
The Present Day Problem
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
In Patanjali’s book, The Yoga Sutras (considered one of the key texts or bibles of yoga), there are 196 sutras (or guidelines), and when studying them one gets a sense of splitting the atom; each short line erupts, sometimes into multiple fragments, and with a wealth of meaning and deeper knowledge. Study of these sutras is a life-long exploit, and requires commitment, or ‘retreat’ in some sense of the word.
Jesus did it, the Buddha, Muhammed, Milarepa, in fact all the sages and gurus throughout history spent time in isolation or study or attain some aspect of enlightenment. However retreat and commitment for the purpose of life-philosophy and wisdom are not on the to-do list of most people.
To many walking through the doors of a yoga studio, yoga (the union of mind, body and spirit) is understood solely to be ‘exercise’. However yoga is divided into eight ‘limbs’, the asanas (the postures – the exercise part) making up just one of those limbs. There are seven others, which to most are a mystery or completely unknown. Many people (yoga goers or otherwise) have no idea that yoga encompasses those things they may be looking for; healing, mindfulness, health, happiness, philosophy of life, connection…
Therefore a yoga teacher’s mission (aside from helping their class with the physical benefits of yoga) is also to help their students make sense of the matrix of modern life, where they may be stressed and grappling with first world problems, by providing them with simple accessible tools to improve their mental, emotional and physical well-being. Offering to those who are ready (the seekers and the awakening), bytes of this ancient knowledge which they can integrate to their lives, to ease emotional turmoil (kleshas) and dis-ease.
Starting with the Basics
Every yoga teacher is different and focuses on the parts of yoga which inspire them the most, imparting knowledge to those who are drawn to their classes, but some of the basics they may start with are:
Breathe – To breathe fully
Meditate – Even 5 minutes a day
Move – For flow in the body, mind and spirit
Eat – Eating well; 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 which most people get wrong, and in changing the foundations, everything that follows (thoughts, actions and results) may be transformed and enriched.
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.
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 is allowing time to be, and to reset.
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.
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 by 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, and are the beginning, with a wealth, depth and breadth of learning within each.
With media focus on financial and organizational conspiracies, the questionable dealings of drug producers, and the rise of ill-health and damage to the world, many people are seeking a better way than the route the mainstream western world offers…The ride got too fast, and they want more grounded and natural answers which won’t make them sick.
Everyone who walks through the door of the yoga studio (whatever their starting point) wants to feel better.
Find a yoga teacher whose unique voice resonates with you, whose take on the ancient yogic wisdom appeals to you and your lifestyle. You will see the affects before too long, and also feel them roll through your life the others you are connected with.
…and look out for Huw Man; he just woke up and realized his past life was better