I first discovered yoga when I was 18 and living in South Florida. I’ve practiced it for over 40 years, and it has served me in many ways, not just as a spiritual and physical exercise system, but as a metaphor for life.
I thought I would use this week’s blog to look at how this time-honored method can be used to inquire into your body and mind.
Yoga develops your awareness in a unique way. Yogis discovered over a thousand years ago that if you synchronize movement and breath, you capture the attention of the mind, which is usually bouncing around from one subject to another like a butterfly, or as it’s sometimes called — a monkey mind.
The benefit of drawing your awareness inward, through focusing your attention on the inflow and outflow of the breath, is that it brings you in direct contact with the present.
In Flow Yoga, which I learned from Ganga White and Tracey Rich, the poses flow from one to another in a continuous movement. Even poses that appear to be unmoving are infused with the movement of the breath. Each inhalation draws the energy of the breath into the body, and with each exhalation, the pose is expanded to allow for more length and space. The inner awareness that develops, in a deeply sensory way, reveals where you are tight and constricted, and where you are relaxed and open.
Over time, no matter where you were when you started, you gradually discover where and how to realign the body and let go of unnecessary holding.
The experience of letting go can be subtle or dramatic, but it does come — especially if you develop a consistent practice. The practice of letting go also reveals just how tied the mind and the body are. In fact the word yoga means to yoke, like when an ox is yoked to a wagon.
When you let go of something you’ve been holding in mind, it also releases the holding in the body. For instance, you can zero in on a spot in your body that is sore or tense, and by bringing your awareness (through your breathing) into that area, you can learn to see its root cause as being lodged in the mind as well. Self judgment is a good example, as are the memories that sometimes, even years later, cause anger to well up within us.
A tight mind = a tight body. A flowing mind = a graceful body.
When you learn where and how to relax the area around the tension, both body and mind are freed up.
Yoga as an awareness practice, develops three skills, namely Strength, Flexibility, and Balance.
There are numerous poses that develop each of these skills, and each skill depends on the other two.
Strength is developed through learning to be Flexible in both mind and body, and through finding Balance in the ever-changing moment.
Flexibility depends on both Strength and Balance, and allows you the freedom to explore beyond the limits imposed by the mind, with the added benefit of learning how to bend without breaking.
Balance, requires both Strength and Flexibility. Try the Tree Pose sometime and you’ll see what I mean.
Each of these skills can be practiced off the mat, as well as on it.
Strength could be seen as: stamina, resilience, and fortitude
Flexibility could be: willingness to listen, adaptability, and letting go
Balance might include: equanimity, equilibrium, and non-attachment
Which of these skills (Strength, Flexibility, and Balance) need more of your attention? Can you think of some new ways to bring these skills into your family, work, or spiritual practice?
If you are looking for ways to deepen your own personal practice, consider yoga as a way to bring mind, breath and body into synch, on and off the mat.
If you are interested, on our website at: www.one-now.com you will find a tab called Products. In the “featured product” section will find Total Yoga from Ganga & Tracey. This is the practice Paulette and I use, and I recommend it highly. Also on that page is a guided breath practice by yours truly called Awakening Breath. The two practices are great for both beginners and seasoned practitioners.