body, breath, Compassion, Eye contact, gratitude, interconnectedness, Intimacy, Love, Melbourne Cup Day, Mind, particles of joy, PTSD, random animals, supta baddha konasana, Sweet Mango, Thanksgiving, Yoga, yoga teaching, Yogis
Right now in America its Thanksgiving, which (and possibly you didn’t know this) isn’t celebrated as a holiday outside of the US and Canada. But in general, it’s a great idea for everyone on this planet to practice feeling grateful, and more than just once a year. Preferably without overeating, too. And even when things aren’t all rosy.
Especially yogis – y’know, I think it’s in the yogi handbook (that “official” one they give you when you sign on for life)…
(AHEM! That last sentence was a JOKE people! Well, except for the part about “especially yogis”. Coz, dudes and dudettes, yoga philosophy is all about love and compassion and stuff!)
Before this post gets going, I wanted to let you know that Sweet Mango (aka Michelle) – I wrote about her in my last post – did get the miracle she desperately needed. It’s such a wonderful story, and I am thankful for the way things turned out for her!
Over here in the ass-end of the world, we don’t do the whole turkey dinner in November thing. Today on Twitter, Ecoyogini asked if we Aussies have a holiday in November. Ha! The closest thing we have is a holiday on the first Tuesday of November and it’s for a horse race (quite a famous one though).
Yep… and in the week leading up to it, people spend stupid amounts of money on clothes and booze (translation: alcohol) and then go and stand around dusty racing tracks – unless they are lucky and get an invite to a VIP section – and bet, and drink and flirt. It’s meant to be glamorous or something.
Of course, I’m quite anti the whole thing on account of the horses. I mean, sure they get treated well as long as they’re making money. After that, some of them become breeding animals and the others…well, I think it’s dodgy.
And that is our November public holiday! Well, as long as you’re in Victoria. In the other states, people just take a half day from work, and get drunk over lunch which effectively renders them useless for the rest of the day!
Anyway, this post is meant to be about stuff that I’m grateful for, right? So here goes!
Despite everything, including all of the reasons this blog exists, I am grateful to be here.
These days my life is much more, uhhh, liveable than it has in a good long while. However, I still have days/hours/moments where I feel completely and utterly miserable. Mostly, this happens when I compare the state of my world to some cookie-cutter ideal I was hand-fed by my family, the society I grew up in, and/or the values of the entire freakin’ western world. The tendencies towards depression and anxiety attacks mean that none of that stuff is easy to deal with.
My life looks pretty much nothing like any of those “markers” of happiness and success. And yet, despite everything, and perhaps regardless of the numerous times I have to back myself away from the soul-destroying, negativity-loving shouty little demon folk, I’m pleased to report that these days it’s still possible to find happiness and gratitude.
Okay, so my version of happiness is far from perfect. But still, nearly every single day I can genuinely find something to be happy about.
A lot of that has to do with three things.
First – just taking the time to look around me. Because then I get to indulge in my predilection for saying hello to random animals on the street…
And appreciate nature, and other people. Yeah… that thing I used to avoid thanks to PTSD? It’s called looking other people in the eye, and now I can do that again (hooray), I look through their eyes into their hearts and offer them what they hopefully see as a smile of love. Because in case you hadn’t noticed, pretty much all of us need more of that. Love. Smiles. Pleasure gained from little things.
If what we want for this world is to generate more love, compassion and gratitude, then this seeing people is important work, because so many of us just feel invisible, right?
Second – actually, is my online world here. Through which I’ve met incredible people and hey, maybe someday I’ll get to meet a few more of you! While reading blogs and Twitter, I’ve discovered stories that angered me, brought me to tears, made me laugh out loud, entertained me and overall, educated me. You are all awesome!
Third – of course, is yoga. I still can’t quite actually believe that I’m a yoga teacher, and yet I find endless blessings and revelations from each and every class I teach. Even if I think the class went terribly, it still teaches me. And more than anything, it brings me happiness, to think that I’ve been able to share information with others that helps them learn more about their relationship to their body or mind. That just blows my mind!
Between teaching and my own practice, plus regular doses of kirtan and meeting other like-minded people… this has and continues to be a stabilising force around which I gather those smallish particles of joy.
Yoga is the basis of the new life I’m planning for myself…more about that some other time soon. For now, I’ll just say that for the first time in an absolute age, I have a plan. Something that’s about doing the right thing by myself and I just hope I can pull it off! Because if I can turn things around the way I want them to go, then it’s not just doing the right thing for me – it will in the long run benefit others, too.
And now, a little something I wrote and read out to my class this week. None of the ideas are new or original. They’re all things I’ve learned from my teachers. Maybe it’s just because I’m a new teacher, but sometimes I feel like I don’t get to say the things I really want to say while I’m teaching. Stuff that I want my students to understand about yoga!
So I basically wrote down a bunch of ideas, and asked everyone to lie in supta baddha konasana (reclined butterfly) while I read it out.
Here it is now, for you, too. With my love and thanks for being a fabulous online community. xo
About your yoga practice
The concept of yoga has been interpreted in dozens of ways all over the world. But what is yoga, really?
Is it stretching? Does movement have to be involved? Can yoga could be performed in a chair, or by a quadriplegic or paraplegic? Is yoga limited to what happens in a class and on your yoga mat? The answer could be “yes” to all of these things, but yoga philosophy and practice is a vast body of knowledge and can take many years to study.
Through my teachers, the following definition of yoga has been passed down to me and it’s both very simple and very complex: yoga is intimacy.
Not in a sexual way of course! But intimacy as true interconnectedness. This begins with how you relate to yourself, and so we start with the breath. In much of our waking lives, we are unfamiliar with our own breath – and yet it’s the breath which carries the exchange of life force energy that keeps us alive.
How aware of your breath are you? Without training it’s difficult to breath with awareness all day long and this is why in yoga class, we practice being focussed on our breath.
The breath originates our life force and ability to move, and as such, we start and end each movement we take in yoga with our breath.
And over time, through this practice we learn to link our breath (awareness = mind) with our body. For many people this is a challenge, because the body is where we store all of our pain, fear and suppressed emotions. To connect the breath/mind with the body, is actually a really big deal.
Once that connection between the body and mind starts to open, the body responds in kind. And you might find that yoga poses you previously thought you couldn’t do become much easier. Sometimes these sorts of changes can appear to happen very quickly.
But you have to ask yourself if it was ever the case that your body couldn’t do what it can now do. Or if it was something else that changed. Your awareness of your body in space, perhaps? Or maybe your fear around what you think you can or can’t do?
People have many reactions to yoga. Some think it’s boring. Others – including me – have at times found it to be something that causes fear. Some people experience nothing but bliss doing yoga. And others yet again, try it and hate it.
These are all reactions of the body and the mind attempting to work together. And if you keep practicing over time, you might find that you experience all of these things, and possibly other experiences I haven’t mentioned.
The thing is – whatever your current experience of yoga, it can and will change. And while you’re finding your feet in your relationship to your yoga practice, it’s good to adopt an attitude of playful exploration.
In my own personal practice, there are still things I can’t do or that I find really challenging. However, there is a way around that fear, if we are willing to be playful and have fun with it!
The opposite of playful exploration is telling ourselves we can’t do something. The more we tell ourselves that, the more we won’t be able to do it because we won’t even try. If we never do those things, our relationship to them never changes.
So, back to the concept of yoga as intimacy. We fear what we’re not familiar with. To lose our fear, we have to get to know what we’re afraid of. And in yoga, our tool set for this work is the mind, the breath and the body.
The mind focuses and controls the breath in a way that helps us to relax and provides continuity and consistency. The breath starts and finishes our movements to soothe our transitions and release our fears. The mind can tell us all kinds of things about our yoga practice – how much it hurts, that we’re scared or tired, that we can’t hold that pose a second longer – but if we allow ourselves to focus on breathing instead of what the mind says, the body will respond. And suddenly all of our protests go away. And the body, with the support of the mind and the breath, can over time, experience openings that inform the mind that things are changing.
This is why it doesn’t matter if you fall over. And why it isn’t important how well or badly you can do a pose. The correct attitude to your practice at any given time is: “What’s going on in my body? Where am I holding tension? How is my breathing? Do I feel connected to my body as I move through these yoga poses?”
To answer these questions, you need to explore how you feel and what you’re thinking and doing in your practice. Although a yoga teacher leads the class, your yoga practice is unique to your own body, breath and mind. You are the only one who can do this work of exploration, and it’s the way to intimacy and the path to attaining yoga.