Hmmmm….Are there really 5 ways to deepen ones yoga practice? Well, that would be a very convenient answer to a much deeper and complicated question. In order to deepen something, we are implying that we have a solid basis, a foundation, a place from which we would like to peer just a bit further over the ledge, metaphorically speaking. We may want to feel bliss and joy and serenity in the face of chaos and crisis, but somehow it eludes us time and time again. We might know that just beyond our current “place” lies something so profoundly beautiful, so incredibly alluring, so wonderfully inviting – we might know logically and rationally that this deeper level exists, yet accessing it feels very perplexing, confusing, downright “I-cant-do-that” material….We may sincerely want to go further in order to achieve that deeper yoga practice, we just don’t know how to get there.
Here are some ways to get to that next place. They are fairly straightforward concepts, which is great because when applied to a yoga context they can take on a whole new meaning. Most of what I am writing about will apply to the yoga class situation, where there is a large focus on physical asana practice. Even if you practice at home, or you pursue a different form of yoga other than physical postures, see if there isn’t something here that might allow you to deepen, to go further, to feel bliss, joy, tranquility and most of all, to feel real and lasting spiritual, emotional and overall personal growth. Ahhhhhh…
1. Breathe! There is no element of class that is more central to yoga than the breath. This is what differentiates yoga from other forms of movement. All movement can bring a certain feelings of bliss and union with oneself. After a good run, or some serious weight lifting, we often experience wonderfully cascading waves of calm and endorphin induced clarity…I know this because I work in a gym, I do all different types of movement, and I am exposed to the “newest’ and “best-workout-since-sliced-bread” movement based trends out there (Equinox stays very current! It is an excellent perk…). In all these years I have yet to see another form of movement that integrates breathe the way that yoga does. Awareness of breathe does more than focus your mind on the present moment -it signals the brain to either engage or disengage the stress response. Oxygen uptake and the pace/intensity at which we perform the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide is a central part of much larger systems that regulate optimal physical performance. Other than the science, the breath is at the heart of practicing yoga, as it draws the mind inward and steadies the often racing thought patterns in our minds landscape.
2. Listen! When you are in a class, it would seem valid and not really much of a stretch (pardon the pun, hee hee…) to assume that you would like to be taught something. By someone else. Namely the teacher. Often, instead we are in our own world and we fail to listen. We think to ourselves, “I know what comes next!!!!! I know! I know, OOOOOOhhhhhh please let me do it first!!!! I know it!!!” And it can be fun and exciting to get comfortable with a teachers style and flow, for example a teacher like me who has some set sequences and some more complex sequences. It can feel very reassuring – like, “I know this because I have dedicated time to this class, and I have been paying attention!!” And yes, that is admirable and true. And its wonderful to feel a sense of command and forethought about what might come next…but when we fail to listen, it usually because we are not being present. We are ahead of the game, so to speak. For NYC dwellers,this attribute is an absolute asset to city life… wouldn’t it be nice to know there was one place where that urge to be first, or to think ahead, or to dive headfirst…to know there is one place where you actually don’t have to do that? Where you can suspend your sense of urgency and just be…in the moment, in the flow…and especially in my class…if you make a mistake, or miss the posture, that’s ok!!! It really is. I repeat postures a lot, and I admire the focus and discipline required to stay present, be in the moment, and just listen…Yoga is a practice, not a one time event.
3. Explore!! The next time you are in a yoga class, and the teacher presents options to take a pose deeper, try one! Normally, there are about a ba-jillion ways to modify the more challenging version of any posture. It is when we don’t bother to even try something new that our practice gets stale and we stop growing. Explore! Move that foot further back in Warrior I! Try an arm variation in triangle! Use a block, even if you don’t “need” one! Attempt to balance! Even staying with the breath can be an exploration…are you really breathing with the mouth closed, and the thoughts turned in to the present moment? Explore! Be not afraid…Just be smart and please, don’t be foolish! Its not worth it. Ever. Exploration in of itself as a concept is fascinating. It suggests that beyond finding something that is new to us, we may well find something that has always been there, only we couldn’t see it/feel it/know it! (Hello- Columbus “discovered” America…).
4. Prepare! This one is a bit logistic, in as much as it has a profound aspect as well (of course)… For example, my Wednesday class in Soho has been a sauna!!! To say the least. And management informed me that not only is the heat NOT on, but there is a very reasonable temperature set in the room, well below steam room/sauna/ Bikram settings. We create heat when we move! Its wonderful. I personally love a good, dripping, well earned sweat. It feels so satisfying and cleansing on such a primal level…but lets say for example, when you sweat you cannot bind very well because you are too slippery, or your arm balances fall apart because your shirt resembles a wet dishrag…Prepare!! bring a towel or extra shirt, or know that your arm balance might be compromised! If you are super uncomfortable in the heat, take another class! Or bring water..or ask around and see if there are other ways to better experience something that could potentially derail your practice. If you are injured and don’t wish to be adjusted, tell the teacher! That will mean preparing, because this is best done prior to the start of class. Prepare for a good yoga experience and you will have just that. You might even deepen your practice!
5. Accept/Tolerate….This one is tricky, and may take the most sincere attention. There may be some poses that exceed your capacity at the present moment. There may be some poses that you might not ever feel that tranquil feeling of surrender and peace, because you have joint complications or scar tissue, or a more pressing issue that makes that pose off limits. These are some examples of what we must tolerate…what we must accept as flawed and imperfect beings. We have to understand that although beyond a shadow of a doubt the human body is the most complex, fascinating and intricate work of art that we are aware of, it will fail us at times. It will limit us, it will deliver pain signals and demand that we stop what we are doing and think twice about doing it again. And thank goodness!!! But we persist…we struggle, we ignore, we deny, we flail and we flop, instead of accepting and tolerating. We are not perfect. Yoga does not ask that we are perfect. It asks that we are honest and that we accept. The discomfort that comes with tolerating our imperfections can serve to empower us in the face of much larger and more daunting scenarios…like the twists and turns of life! If all else fails, return to step one and breathe 🙂
See you in class!
“It is the truth we ourselves speak rather than the treatment we recieve that heals us. ” M. Hobart Mowrer (1966)
“Things do not change. We change.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden