Have you ever asked yourself that question? What is the obvious answer?
In slow tempo In simplicity In gratitude In humbleness When I remember I'm a part of the whole In being helpful and feeling helpless In the changing weather that brings storms and rainbows at the same time
Pequeños grandes momentos de gratitud.
Lunes: la atención y compasión de un par de oídos en un momento de confusión.
Martes: un par de zapatos secos y calientitos por la mañana para mi viaje en bici hacia el trabajo.
Miércoles: el honor de compartir mi pasión.
Jueves: el espíritu juguetón de un desconocido que me alegró el camino de vuelta a casa.
Nada más bello que una buena risa imprevista en medio de lo cotidiano.
I love it when I learn about something that is difficult to grasp so store it in a ‘drawer’ inside my mind. Then, once in a while, I go back to it, explore it, apply it to my own experiences, and evaluate if I have a better understanding. Oftentimes, I have to put it back in the ‘drawer’, until one day, just like magic, a little spark of understanding ignites and I feel I understand a little bit better. To then realize that my understanding is most probably just the tip of the iceberg… Does it happen to you?
Ever since I took my YTT, I have been very sceptical to talk about flow of energy and chakras in my classes simply because they are concepts that are very difficult to grasp for me, and I don’t want to teach something that 1) I don’t understand 2) I haven’t experienced. Some years ago, I bought a book about chakras and tried to ‘work on my chakras’ as described in the book for some months, without noticing any change. Most probably because of lack of understanding, perseverance and proper guidance.
After studying a bit more about the Tantra and Hatha traditions this year, I have come to understand that in order to work with the chakras, one needs to be initiated into one of these traditions. This said, the practice of yoga asana does have an impact in the flow of energy inside our body. This is not ‘mystical’ energy as we have a tendency to believe, it is oxygen, blood circulation, flow of nutrients, stimulation of the nervous system, etc.
If you think about it, our lifestyles allow us to move in very limited ways. Even if we are conscious about getting enough exercise, most of the time, the range of movement is limited. The big advantage of yoga asana is that the different movements and poses allow us to mobilise joints, and strengthen and stretch muscles that we probably otherwise don’t give much attention to on an everyday basis.
I have experienced to feel heaviness, discomfort or even pain in certain body parts and then focus my asana practice towards these and other body parts directly connected to them feeling much better afterwards. The key, I think is to have a regular practice that allows us to get to know our body well, and to start creating a mental list of movements and poses that we know have a good effect in our body. In order for our asana practice to be of benefit for our body and mind, we need to be curious both about the practice and about our body and mind.
So in this sense, yes, the yoga asana allows the energy in our body to flow better by strengthening, releasing tension and keeping our joints healthy. That is maybe ‘level 1’ of my understanding of energy. ‘Level 2’ would then be the flow of prana. Which I do understand but I don’t fully grasp. So, I continue practicing, I continue observing and learning. This is such a fun journey! 🙂
I asked this question to a group of fourteen year old students this week assuming that their definition would be in the lines of ‘stretching exercises’. Some of them didn’t know, some of them defined yoga as stretching, relaxation, and breathing exercises. None of these definitions is wrong, but they are incomplete. But then, one girl said ‘It is a way to relax the mind so we can deal with life better’. This is very close to what I understand as yoga after studying and practicing for some years, and it really surprised me how matter-of-factly she said it. She has never practiced yoga before nor does any of her family members.
If you have been study and practicing, you might know that there are many different definitions of yoga “Yoga is union”, “Yoga is skilfulness in action”, “Yoga is the cessation of the waves of the mind”, just to mention some. These definitions stem from different traditions in which the means to yoga vary but the goal is the same: self-knowledge for self-transformation.
The supreme goal of Yoga is to realise that we are more than what we perceive and think, but in my view, there are sub-goals that can bring immense benefits to our life and the lives of others if the goal of self-realisation feels too lofty or far to reach.
Traditionally, Yoga is seen as a science and the object of study is the self. Each path has its own definition and set of theories and techniques to lead the practitioner towards better self-understanding, thus guiding her gradually towards a state of lasting inner peace and clarity. One could simply say that Yoga is not the goal, it is the means, and more than a specific technique or practice, it is a mindset.
Stretching can be part of the yoga practice if one chooses to start the inner journey through the physical body by practicing asana (yoga postures). However, the physical practice is not limited to stretching. It is an invitation to self-exploration and self-understanding to make appropriate choices for our mental and physical health. Ideally, we practice yoga asana to keep the body healthy, agile and strong. A healthy body allows us to cultivate a calm mind. So, the asana practice does not need to be complicated or strenuous. In order for it to be Yoga, it needs to be practiced with clarity of intention. If the intention is self-knowledge, you are practicing yoga. If your practice leaves you invigorated but with a calm state of mind, you are practicing yoga. If your practice brings you injury, stress and the pursuit of the perfect pose, you are not practicing yoga. You are practicing physical activity. There is nothing wrong with it, as long as you are clear about it.
What many don’t know, is that Yoga can be practiced without the physical practice. There is Dhyana Yoga, or Yoga Meditation where one works systematically towards slowing down the mind in order to let go of misperceptions and misconceptions of who we are and the what world around us is. The main goal is to achieve a state of stable concentration that will lead to what is called samadhi. Samadhi for me is still too difficult to grasp, so my meditation practice is still focused on slowing down the mind for a more peaceful and centered attitude towards life.
There is also Karma Yoga where we live our practical life with full awareness and an attitude of sacrifice. Through action, we also get to know ourselves better, and we gradually change our attitude acting with clarity, pure intentions and for the benefit of the whole. Karma Yoga is a prefect path in our times since we all have to live a practical life, and through the change of attitude in our actions, we cultivate a calmer state of mind, allowing us to live a more meaningful life.
The list of different Yoga paths continues, and most of the time, these paths intertwine. This means that one can practice both yoga asana and meditation and be active in the world following the principles of Karma Yoga. What is required from us is to be clear about the main goal of Yoga and to be willing to do the internal work of self-study and reflection with the guidance of scriptures and a teacher.
Whatever your goal of practicing yoga is, and whatever path you choose, be clear about what your intentions are. If you go to a yoga class with the intention to get a workout, that is good. If you go to a yoga class with the intention to relax, that is good too. If you however want to make deeper changes in your life through the practice of Yoga, you need to know that it requires perseverance, self-responsibility, study, and lots of practice. Preferably through the guidance of a teacher who will be able to point you towards the right direction.
In all humbleness, as a yoga teacher, I aim to help my students explore the different aspects of Yoga. Hopefully this will lead them towards the wish to find a way to self-understanding so they can choose the right practice for them. However, the search and the responsibility lies in the student. I have my own teacher that guides me but I am encouraged to practice, observe and reflect and never take anything as dogma.
As a Yoga practitioner, I am a strong believer in the power of meditation as a wholistic approach to life. Through the practice of meditation, I have learned the power of my mind. It is through my mind that I live my life, and it is through the practice of meditation that I can gradually train myself to calm my mind, create space between my thoughts and my actions, and change my perspectives or at least accept that they are just one way of seeing things.
I am learning the power of living life ‘inside out’ as my teacher calls it. I have learned to observe myself in all situations, especially in those that bring stress and distress and ask myself, ‘what can I change in my mind to better deal with this?’ So, every once in a while, reflecting about situations in which I experience stress, I set myself a goal on how I can change the situation by changing my perspective, my attitude or my behaviour.
For a while I have been thinking that if we all were willing to work with ourselves, it would be easier to interact with each other, we would take better care of each other, our environment and all living beings.
This week, during one of my meditation sessions, one of my students shared that she had set herself the goal of being less judgemental of her boss at work. In the past, she had experienced ending up in conflict with her boss, often because she had a negative opinion on certain things her boss did or said. She decided to put her effort in her work and not waste her energy in things out of her control. I asked her how this strategy is working so far, and she said that she had noticed a change of attitude in her boss too, and that they have had some good conversations. Once, her boss answered back in a harsh way and apologised shortly after without it escalating into a conflict.
I couldn’t help but wonder if my student’s boss also had the purpose of changing some attitudes and behaviours towards my student (and maybe all the employees). I really liked this idea. Imagine if we all were constantly reflecting about how we interact with the world around us, and when we notice room for improvement, instead of pointing our fingers at others, we decide to start with our own attitudes.