An experience with Yoga that we can all learn from:
I had been going to yoga classes for about five year on and off. Every time I did, however, I felt like there was something missing.
I had my matching yoga get-up, my pricey but pretty mat, and even my own zafu (yoga cushion).
But still, I wasn’t getting what I hoped for out of my practice.
I didn’t quite know what I was hoping for either—I just wanted to feel how the blissed-out yogis from the class before seemed to be feeling.
I thought I was doing something wrong.
Years down the track, here’s what I’ve learnt:
The yoga classes we try out but feel unsettled in, might just not be the right classes for us. It’s as simple as that. Chances are, we aren’t doing anything wrong.
For instance, the classes I was going to turned out to be not so much of the intuitive and mind focused yoga I was craving, but instead, strict asana (yoga pose) focused classes—intended for flexibility and fitness more than anything else.
Due to social media, Google, and endless YouTube videos, yoga is sometimes seen for only part of what it can be. I thought, “Yoga is yoga!”
It’s getting bendy on a mat, listening to soft melodies, and saying “Namaste” at the end.
But that’s just one type of yoga out of the hundreds that exist today.
After speaking to the (really lovely) instructor about how I felt, I realised that the class description clearly stated that the sessions were focused on asana and flow, as opposed to breath work, mindfulness, or meditation.
Which was all well and fine—asana has its importance too, and many thrive on an asana-only practice.
But once I realised that I was craving the meditative aspect of a yoga session, I also figured out that was hard to find in a (relatively) fast-paced hour of twisting my body into somewhat uncomfortable positions, whilst trying not to fart.
This is where class descriptions are helpful to read through. The class description pinned to the wall was on point. But sometimes we miss these things, like I did—or the title yoga is used loosely to describe any practice involving tights, mats, and downward dogs.
It takes time to find the yoga practice that works for us.
We might agree that a common misconception of yoga is that it’s all about the movements. However, physical postures are not all of what make yoga what it is. The movements that we commonly associate oga with are called asanas. Asana is one of many tools that aid yoga. Many yoga classes are asana concentrated classes and skip the thought-witnessing aspect altogether, like the classes I was going to.
So what exactly is yoga?
Is there really a set, universal definition of yoga?
It can be what we want it to be. There are endless types of yoga.
What I was after, was mostly classical yoga at its root—self-realisation. The awareness of thoughts, and the focus on stillness within.
Oh, our minds and our wonderful thoughts…
Most of us are pretty attached to our thoughts, right? We think that we are our thoughts. When we have a depressed thought, we say we are depressed. When we have a happy thought, we are happy.
Thoughts pull us up, down, and sideways, often without our permission. They can be draining to say the least. In classical yoga, we practice the mastery of those thoughts, where we realise that we are in control.
Practicing asana in our yoga practice:
One of the many things we can do to help us shift from feeling attached to our thoughts to witnessing our thoughts, is to incorporate asana movements into our practice—they need not be extravagant or fast-paced.
There are many other things we can do to help us witness our mind chatter instead of feeling attached to it.
Eight traditional tools (things we can do) of yoga stem from ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’—the most ancient and honoured source book for yoga practice. Here’s a great article which further explains the eight tools (or limbs) of yoga.
Perhaps our desire to practice yoga is not to perform flexi-badass yoga asanas—but instead a desire to practice the mindfulness that comes with classical yoga. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Maybe we want a mix of both, or something else altogether. Class descriptions are in fact, there to be read—oops.
Which yoga works for me now?
What I really want to share with you is that our yoga practice (including asana practice) doesn’t have to be as strict as we think it ought to be. Sure, there are benefits in discipline (many benefits—in fact, it is entwined in the eight limbs of yoga) but if that’s not our jam and we’ve come to the mat for some rule-free fun, here’s what I do to turn into one of those blissed-out yogis I would see after class.
I practice my yoga at home.
I call my kind of yoga the “breathe and do whatever feels good” style. Perhaps this already exists, but here’s my version of it.
“Breathe and do whatever feels good” yoga:
We start with our butt on the floor. Any position that is comfortable, really. Then, we take our mind’s focus to our breath. You’ve heard this before, right?
It’s easiest when we listen to our body. Where are we feeling tight or sore? Where are our thoughts? What are those cheeky buggers doing?
We may think we don’t know what asana, pose, or stretch will feel good, and our thoughts could be focused on the lunch we’re about to eat, or how we handled work yesterday. Don’t worry, this is completely normal.
We can allow all of our thoughts and feelings to arise; listen to them, observe them, and then gently bring our awareness back to our breath. Continuing this throughout our practice will eventually lead to it feeling like second nature—the in and out of yoga. Arise, observe, acknowledge, and let go.
If that freaks us out (because I get it, breathing is damn hard sometimes), we can find a spot in front of us, and stare it down. Focus on this spot, and don’t move your eyes from it. This spot is called a drishti.
As with not knowing “how to move our body to make it feel good,” go with the flow. I mean, really. Let’s try not to think about it so much. Let the movements come to us, because they will.
In our solo practice, there is no one to judge our awkward moves but ourselves. Remember that while asana can be a helpful tool in any yoga practice, it needs not be so difficult, thought-out, or perfect.
In my home practice, I like to strip bare. We can take this literally, and strip bare of our clothing—engaging in the latest hype of nude yoga. (If it feels right, engaging in yoga hype is by no means a bad thing.)
Or take it in the sense that we strip all expectations—from our peers, society, and, ourselves.
Difficult asanas can help in bringing our mind’s focus to something that isn’t a worry, but if we don’t feel like doing cool moves, let’s not do them. We’re practising at home for a reason, right? There are no judgments here at home—at least, there shouldn’t be. We don’t need to be in sync, no-one’s looking.
Let’s roll things up now.
In a nutshell, the yoga experience I felt I was missing for years was in essence, classical yoga. I sought a meditation-focused yoga, one where I could strip myself from expectation, and the need to keep up with what the others in the class were doing.
My kind of yoga is self-practice, at home yoga. Breathe and do whatever feels good yoga. Our yoga practices can be whatever we want them to be, and we don’t need to abide by society’s rules on them.
Any yoga practice is indeed a practice. We learn every time—whether that be realising something about our thoughts, finding our ideal breath rhythm, or feeling into an asana.
Have fun and discover your kind of yoga.
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