Friday, December 26, 2014

Why Get Out Of Bed For Yoga?

I teach yoga as I love getting outside, I love showing people what they can do to move more freely, to see the joy in people's faces as they learn, to move out of pain and suffering, to be a better and kinder person. 

The other day I was asked a question. What makes you want to get out of bed to do yoga?

The truth is, while I am a teacher of hatha (physical) yoga, I don’t always want to get out of bed to do this yoga. 

I suppose sometimes people think teachers must just be itching to get out of bed to go and do their practice.  But there are days where I just want to sleep or linger or snuggle—especially in winter!

When I was first starting my ‘serious’ yoga I would have thought there was something wrong with thinking like that.  It was because I had a narrow conception of yoga and because I had (?still have) a slight tendency towards rigidity or control in certain areas of my life. 

This was the phase of my practice where I thought I must do my yoga every day and that I must do it for a certain amount of time (anything less than an hour was considered slacker territory). 

What this meant was that I made great improvements in terms of my physical practice (as you surely must when you practice 60-90 minutes a day).  But I also felt guilty or ashamed of myself for lack of discipline if I did not practice (though this was rare).  There was also fear that if I did not practice I might ‘backslide’ or something. 

Throughout this time I was mainly doing self practice due to being in a remote location where a civil war was going on.  I was very fortunate that I had met my teacher by then and her words would echo through my practice.  Words about free spinal movement.  About not feeling tension or strain (thanks Paddy).  This meant I did not injure myself. 

I learned to do the splits and backdrops and all sorts of interesting things upside down.  I was very pleased with myself.  But there was still this controlling and guilt element that crept into my thinking about practice.  I knew I was missing something here. 

Things changed a lot for me when I heard my other teacher, Simon, whisper some words before a group practice.

“The main purpose of this practice,” he said, “is to move circulation and energy through your body.”

The words were a missing piece of the puzzle (there are more and I will keep putting them in place). 

Today I say these words before every class I teach.  I mean them.  I must sound like a robot to my students and sometimes I think they must have heard it a million times maybe today I will say something else or nothing.  But I don’t.  I always say them.  They are just too important.

I stand there and I think to myself.  Right, I have this body and it is designed to move and to be healthy it needs to move in a way that is going to make it feel good.  And I remind myself to distinguish between that which makes my body feel good in and of itself rather than some sort of ‘feel good’ of the ego that comes with flashy poses. 

When I remind myself about this purpose it is a reminder to myself to be honest about whether these movements, whatever I am doing, free up my body so that it feels elegant, light, and warm.  So that any niggly aches and pains dissipate. 

When I practice like this I can generally do ‘stronger things’ but feel more at ease. 

When I practice without force or strain or too much desire then it also helps my mind become much clearer.  By the end of such a practice I feel more connected to my body, any troubling thoughts or life circumstances feel much more manageable, and I am somehow able to be a better and kinder person to others.

And you know, for me that is a driving force.  To practice in a way that helps you move away from pain and suffering so that you can be a more stable person for friends, family, and people you do not even know.

I know it sounds like I am going on a bit of a roundabout way to answer a seemingly simple question but it gets back to the heart of the question for me.  I promise.

You see, aside from teaching around 10 classes a week, along with my own practice, I also work full time as an occupational therapist with children with autism and their families.  I also live with my sister and her family, including my nieces. 

What this means is that some mornings I get up and I want to practice my hatha yoga.  I’ll head out to the balcony and my niece will get up all ready to play.  There I have a decision.  Am I going to tell her to go away or do I use this interaction as an opportunity to practice my yoga.  To enhance my connection to self and others.  So although I have a strong desire to get the kinks out I might make toilet roll fairies or do Willy Wonka puzzles or even show her a few down dogs if she is interested. 

Or I might get up all keen for a practice but I realize I have some kids to see at work who need some extra input.  So I spend that time re-writing my therapy activity plans or researching some new ideas.

The key is I can now do this without resentment, guilt, or a feeling that I am somehow not doing my yoga. 

To me this is a type of karma yoga.  You know, a yoga of service.  And it is delightful. 

I can only do this because of the change in mindset.  Because I changed my ideas about the main purpose of my practice, I know that I can also slip in 5-10 minutes of circulation/energy moving sequences into my day.  Longer if time allows later in the day.  But I do not feel bound to a 60-minute practice just for the sake of it. 

My physical practice is very important to me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have twisted vertebrae and without it I would be in a lot of pain.  This means I am very motivated to do some form of physical practice every day, which is perhaps a more obvious answer to the initial question.  That is, I get out of bed to do yoga so I am not in pain.

Now, having taken you on a walk around some of the thought pathways of my practice, some of the other reasons I get out of bed to practice include:
·      The joy of being awake in the early hours where it is just the birds, a few other early risers, the morning stillness, and me.
·      For the love of fresh air.  I practice mainly outside—even in winter where I can.  I really believe in the positive health benefits of fresh air so much so that I stopped teaching some classes in a yoga studio because I found myself wanting to tell everyone they should get out and enjoy the sun!
·      For the love of teaching.  I enjoy teaching people about movement.  I love seeing people make a deep connection to the possibility of free movement, especially in their spine.  I also enjoy being my own teacher.  Working down to the more subtle layers of what is going on inside.  It makes me feel like a small child delighting and in awe of the smallest of discoveries. 

With that said.  All this writing has inspired me to get out and move!  If this has inspired you to move then join me for a class, find a good teacher near you, or join me in Bali in April 2015 where I am pairing up with Art of Life Retreats for a 7 day yoga retreat (more details soon!).  

Happy and safe practicing to you all.

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