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Sunday, November 2, 2014

What is this Yoga Thing

Challenge question - how many of you go to a studio to practice yoga? Go ahead, raise your hand, no one is looking. But how many of you swing your body into Ashtavakrasana, or Balasana, or Tadasana (eight-bent limbed balance pose, child's pose, standing mountain) and just zone out, thinking about your job, or your grocery list, or your toenail polish, or the leaky faucet you have to fix? How many (of US) get grumpy when you have a substitute teacher? How many (of US) get upset when we fall out of tree pose, or our hamstring is too tight to allow a deep down-dog?

First and foremost I want to say one thing: swinging you body into a pose, zoning out, worrying about life, getting grumpy or frustrated - THERE is NOTHING inherently wrong with experiencing those things. That's life!

But I have to tell you something - if you experience those things but never move beyond them, never "forgive" or PAUSE or zone back in... then yeah, you're still doing ASANA but the actual YOGA... that's getting left out. If we never improve the practice beyond just moving the body, we are missing the bigger picture - the conscious activity of joining together the breath, the mind AND the body to create this cooperative experience people for 6000 years have called YOGA.

Yoga, real yoga as I'm learning it, takes patience and a jarring loose of the notion that you, and your body, and your mind will automatically know what to do, inherently succeed (if you are used to be very athletic) or dismally fail (if you are not). Real yoga, takes training, and practice, and patience, and awareness of when you ARE in a yogic place, and when you have strayed.

We (teachers) often say "come back to the breath." But what do we mean, exactly? For myself, I need to be reminded that I want to be in a place during my practice (and in life in general) where I am AWARE of my breathing and that I can control it. If I'm flowing through a sun salute and I'm panting like a down-dog on a hot summer day and falling over, you can be sure that not only am I not in control of what is happening I'm pretty unaware of it as well, and quite possibly focused on simply surviving much less "doing yoga!"

So how do we turn that moment back into yogic one? Well, how I do it may differ from what works for you, and for my son, and for my companions. But for me, just the act of realizing I'm way OUT of the moment is enough. It's a start anyway.

That my new friends, is what defines MY yogic moment. The act, the forgiveness, the awareness. The body. The mind. The breath. Not just one, but all three. The sanskrit "holy trinity" the above, the below, and what connects them.

Asana is great - a good sweat, or a good restorative posture will do a body good. And course asana is a big part (like, a third, or one of 8 limbs depending on how you slice up your Hatha pie) of YOGA in and of itself. But asana independent of awareness (aka sans mindfulness), well, that's just exercise. NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT. But if you want more, you'll need to practice. It can help to practice with teachers that also admit to being human, that understand the struggle, and offer you the space to find your path and hone your awareness.

So work on abandoning relegating this "thing" we call yoga to the category of just exercise. You may be surprised to find out it really is much much more.

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