When first coming across Yoga, many of us develop a love affair with the practice. For some it is instant. Others take a while to get hooked. There are the wonderful sensations of stretching the body, and the physically challenging and strengthening aspect. We reconnect with areas of our body we haven’t felt for a long time. Or we even discover muscles we didn’t know existed. It is a beautiful workout, which makes us feel SO good.
We start on a journey of self-discovery, which will take us deeper and deeper into the quest of finding our ‘true Self’. Yoga does this gently, consistently, and powerfully. We are moving through different stages and layers, each of them equally exciting.
It is worth reflecting on what makes Yoga different from an ordinary exercise regime. To start with, you won’t find a video screen in a Yoga shala; calm, stillness, and reflection are encouraged, even though we are still ‘working out’. We get given the space ‘to feel’ ourselves, truly and consciously experiencing all the sensations our body presents.
For true Yoga to take place, there won’t be any background music, and your teacher repeatedly draws your awareness to the breath. You are encouraged to ‘listen’ to its continuous movement. The aim is to keep the breath flowing beautifully – calmly, smoothly, and deeply. You ‘listen’ to its sound to monitor its quality. This gives you instant and honest feed-back as to how your practice is going, especially during the more demanding postures. This is when our breath is the ideal mirror of how we are mastering the challenge.
If you thought that once having moved past the body, the breath was a great discovery, wait until you reach more of an understanding of a yet deeper layer within you – your ‘muscle seals’ or bandhas. At first you will need to spend some time simply locating or ‘finding’ your ‘Muladhara Bandha’ – the root lock, and your ‘Uddiyana Bandha’ – the belly lock. Their application comes and goes many times during just one practice; it is the nature of our mind to be fickle. Once you are able to sustain the bandhas ongoingly for longer stretches of time and your focus is fully absorbed by them and directed inward, there will be yet another revelation; this is when you begin to understand the postures from within, not just physically but also energetically – truly amazing!
The Posture – asana
Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras defines posture as – sthirasukhamasanam:
A posture – asana – is only mastered when both the following qualities are equally present, that of sthira = stability, and that of sukha = being at ease.
In a yoga asana we aim to feel both at the same time; strength/stability and flexibility/feeling at ease. What better way to monitor this, than with the breath!
The inhalation stands for strength, stability, and the intake of ‘Prana’ – life force, vitality. The exhalation represents letting go, softness, surrender, relaxation and simply feeling comfortable.
By consistently keeping track of each inhalation and exhalation you are taking, you will develop ‘mindfulness’.
With the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga we particularly have the chance to become more mindful, as we link our movements to the breath. Each breath you are taking, beginning with the opening mantra up to the closing mantra, is accounted for. There is the potential to spend the whole length of your practice totally focused, without any fidgeting, mental procrastinations and the like. This leads us to a deeply concentrated state.
We are encouraged to truly ‘look inward’ to get to know ourselves on a deeper level, and to experience our true nature. This often stirs buried/stored emotions. Recent and also past negative emotions, as well as trauma, can be released. You discover a newly gained lightness and freedom.
Our mind is the most powerful entity which if left to its own devices tends to rule us, making us feel uncomfortable, unhealthily attached, and sometimes unhappy. But it is the same mind, which if mastered, can lead us to freedom, joy and bliss!
Practice mindfulness first on your yoga mat, where you trace your breath continuously, indulging in beautiful sensations of newly found energy, strength and flexibility. With the help of your breath you can truly ‘feel’ your body again, and explore its wondrous capabilities in a myriad of exciting postures. Then you connect with your emotions. Once they are recognized, you are able to sit with them, and if need be, release them.
Investigating your breath continuously without interruption, leads you to a deeply concentrated state. Pranayama and meditation will become part of your practice, assisting you in shedding the ‘layers of the onion’. Get in touch with your innermost being, that of delight, happiness, bliss, and being truly at ease.
Come and practice!