Last week, I decided not to practice yoga. I thought I could use a break and see how my body responded to it. I practice yoga daily, it is part of my life but I had a lot going on last week so used that as an excuse to take a break. So from Tuesday until Sunday, I did not practice yoga. I do not plan on doing that again as long as I am physically able to move.
One of the reasons that yoga is recommended is because it helps the yoga student be mindful in their present moment and this helps regulate emotions. When I review my mood from last week, it was more anxious, and I found myself easily agitated. I practiced my breathing less and I went through each day on autopilot. I just did not feel like myself.
To add to the mental unease, I started feeling physical pain. My calf and hamstring started having sharp pains. It felt like there were knots in them. One morning, I actually woke up with a muscle cramp. This was highly unusual as I haven’t been awaken by a leg cramp since I started practicing yoga and stretching in the evenings.
After a week of this, I decided the experiment was over. Within a day of returning to my mat, my physical pains were gone. I started to feel more at ease in my physical self. The spiritual self took a little hit and has been more challenging to overcome. I realized that even when it felt like yoga was not doing anything, it was doing the most. What I had started taking for granted was because of my consistent practice. I will still take breaks but I will at least try to do five minutes a day. Yoga is like my apple a day.
In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
Yoga is a good friend of mines. It has walked, twisted, and breathed itself into my life and has not left. It goes with me everywhere, it is always in my heart, in my mind, and in my soul. It has taught me new things about myself that I had not known and needed to know. It has also taught me to remember what I had forgotten about myself. It has brought back some of my childhood wonder and joy.
After my best friend passed away four years ago, I found it more difficult to maintain or build friendships with others. I did not really want friends anymore. That is a realization that I have finally allowed myself to sit with and acknowledge. I no longer cared about going to events or parties because I could not share them with my best friend. Have you ever lost someone dear to you? How did that make you feel? How did you manage the grief that came with it? I do not believe the pain of loss ever heals but I do believe that it lessens with time especially if one does the grief work. Grief work is not enjoyable, it is not a fun party, it’s work.
As I have moved into my yoga practice, befriended it, and befriended myself, I have found myself becoming more open. I still have days where I want to completely cut myself off from the rest of the world outside of my immediate family. Those are the days that I check in with myself, look at what is going on around and within, sometimes a yoga practice works and sometimes it does not. It might be that I just need to sit still and breathe and that’s it. My good friend yoga has helped me understand that I need to be my own friend and some days it is okay to not do anything at all.
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.
– Maya Angelou
As a yoga practitioner who practices at home, there are times when I feel that I don’t challenge myself enough. This is not just in my yoga practice, this is in my daily life. There are opportunities that present themselves that I hesitate to grasp due to shying away from a challenge. I want these opportunities, so why the hesitation? Is it fear of rejection?
This fear finds it’s way into my practice. Rejection in the sense of not holding or falling out of a posture. I’ve started challenging myself on the mat and this has led to me challenging myself more off the mat. With challenging myself on the mat, I decided to complete a 90 day yoga program by Fightmaster Yoga called “Thrive “. Its a program at the intermediate level and I was sure I could not do it especially in the first two weeks. I thought it was so hard and I thought I would quit. I was rejecting myself and the thought of quitting made me unhappy. So I accepted where I was each day and I didn’t quit. I ended the program feeling stronger than ever. It also helped me get through a very stressful few months.
I do not believe that you nor I deserve unhappiness or should live in fear. In fact, it makes me angry and even more motivated to make my own happiness and to face my fears. Now, I won’t be facing my fears in a swamp full of alligators, I’m no fool. But I can try new things like traveling to a country I’ve always wanted to travel to or have a yoga practice that always ends in an inversion. Even if I fall out of inversion or cannot get into it at all, I will try, because nothing will change if I do not. It’s exciting to grow and not feel stuck in the mundane. Finding that there are still new things in life. Thriving.
As you grow up, always tell the truth, do no harm to others, and don’t think you are the most important being on earth. Rich or poor, you then can look anyone in the eye and say, ‘I’m probably no better than you, but I’m certainly your equal.
Yoga has become “on trend” in Western society. With Instagram yogis attempting to outdo each other with contortionist like poses in exotic places and activities such as “yoga with goats” prevailing, yoga is popular. In some ways, it is not popular in the way it was originally intended. I am not here to judge Instagram yogis or people who like “yoga with goats” or “beer yoga”. They get judged enough by the yoga purists who turn their nose up at those who profit off yoga in this way. The yoga purists who believe that the only way to practice yoga is their prescribed way and any other way is not practice.
The yoga snob is the one who tells you that you cannot practice yoga at home. She will question and doubt stating “How can you practice yoga without a teacher? It’s not yoga. You don’t know what you are doing. You cannot learn on your own.” What’s interesting is that if the yoga snob is a “she”, one could easily respond that she is not a true yogi as yoga’s history was initially 100% men. Not only that, yoga was originally taught with one teacher to one student, practicing in a studio was unheard of until yoga came into Western Society. So a yogi practicing at home whether using Youtube or a yoga app is closer to the origins as it is just one student and one teacher (granted the teacher is on a video screen) but essentially it was a solo journey with the help of a teacher.
Going to an expensive yoga studio does not make one yogi better than another. With the advent of technology, it is more affordable and less time-consuming for people to practice at home. As a busy working mother, I do not have the time nor the budget to practice at a studio where I have to deal with yoga snobs, the smells (I once went to a class where there was a strong malodorous odor coming from a student), and the overall weirdness of yoga studios. I practice when and where I want to with the only distractions being my family.
The snobbery does not help those seeking to practice yoga. Yoga is for every body and any body. Ethnicity/race, creed, gender, body type, financial class status does not determine whether you can practice yoga or not. I am thankful that Youtube exists because without it, I do not think my yoga practice would have flourished. I have been given recommendations on good yoga books and have been introduced to really good teachers. You do not need a fancy outfit to practice yoga, you do not need a fancy studio, you do not need a yoga snob who only practices in a studio but never at home. All you need is you.
It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.
J. K. Rowling
There is a lot of talk about “living your dreams” or finding your “life passion”. When I take a moment to think about it, I never had solid dreams or goals. I had wants with no real plan to obtain those wants. When people ask me now the question about my goals or “what do you want?” I tend to make up a socially respectable response to avoid the blank stare, the incessant questioning, or the fake understanding of my thought process. My actual dreams that I have in my sleep also provide no guidance, they tend to be an almost hilarious and at times nonsensical story about aliens or talking alligators.
Now that I practice yoga, I’ve found more clarity regarding my goals. Yoga allows me to tame my mind and it interrupts the chatter in my mind that leads to self-doubt or questioning if I’m missing something in life. It is where I find the seventh limb of yoga: dhyana. Concentration and meditation, a mind uninterrupted. Dhyana is to the final step to lead the yogi into the eight limb of yoga: samadhi. That supreme bliss, unity with the Universal Spirit. For me, it’s unifying the scattered pieces of my mind so that it can be clear to find oneness with God. It is finding my breath when I have been holding it all day, its finding my voice when I have been holding my tongue, it is stretching my body when I have been tensing it, it is my release.
Dreams are nice to have especially the good ones when you are asleep in bed. However, I want to find what is real within myself. I do want to know what goals I have that are not influenced by what I feel is expected of me or what goals I have been told to have by my parents and society. Yoga has helped me and continues to help me find my own way in life. My own path is my nirvana.
Peace of mind is a perception of a calm and quiet mind.
My mind is a noisy place. It is very rarely if ever quiet. Its at the quietest when I practice yoga. And I truly practice to clear the busyness of my mind. It is what makes yoga more challenging, it is not just the asanas, it is my mind having a conversation with itself. It may be telling me that I cannot do a specific posture or that I need to hurry because I have so many things to do during the day. It is not always like that, there are times in which I am able to reach the sixth limb of yoga: dharana. I am able to be completely engrossed in my practice. These times are rare.
Dharana may come across as being single-minded because in it the yogi is focused completely on one task or object. Meditation is an example of dharana and I have never been able to meditate longer than five minutes. Sitting still has always been a challenge for me. It is a work in progress as I am sure that there is a deep benefit to mediation. I consider savasana to be the closest I can get to meditation because after a good practice, it is easier for my mind to rest.
There is one way that I have been able to have a stilled mind, though it could be debated that my mind is not actually stilled, and that is while I am reading. Yoga has still not been able to bring me to the state that reading does. If I am reading a good book, I am completely in the book that I hear or see nothing else around me. In fact, if I am interrupted, I can become agitated. This agitation comes when I am interrupted during a yoga practice. I am hoping to reach that same calmness and quiet as I grow in my yoga practice. This is why I practice with no music; to minimize distractions. The beauty of yoga is that it is not a straight and short journey; it is winding with hills, valleys, many climaxes, and there is no end to it. That certainly makes it better than a book.
This is a question that I ponder daily, one that I have had my entire life. Who am I? This question leads to even further questions. Why am I here? Who was I before I got here? In my last post, I talked about breath (pranayama) and how I use it to bring myself into the present. However, I would be remiss if I ignore that it does not help me understand who I am just yet. I admire those who seem to know who they are and where they are going. At this stage of my life, I am still figuring that out and one would think I would know that by now. Sometimes, I wonder if I my life will just be a finite journey seeking the answer to that question.
The fifth limb of yoga seeks to help answer that question: pratayahara. In a basic sense, this is self-examination. For a yogi to self-examine, she must be in tune with her senses. This may involve withdrawing from external stimuli and in today’s modern world, there is so much external stimuli, it becomes so overwhelming and loud that it drowns out our internal stimuli. For me to “find myself” and I say that with tongue in cheek, I need to be able to hear myself and to hear myself, I need to tune out mostly everything else. I say mostly because I still need to work, feed my family, and pay attention to my son and husband. However, even with all that I have going on, I need to find the good in it all, the joy, and with that, I may be able to “find myself”.
We, humans, are a fantastic species. We take many things for granted and one of those things is our breath. We breathe involuntarily, we cannot force ourselves to not breathe. We can only hold our breath for a certain amount of time before we are forced to breathe again. We are not dolphins whose breath takes conscious effort. Dolphins can decide to stop breathing and will only breathe again if they choose to do so. However, we can make our breath conscious. We can focus on the breaths we take to change the quality of our breath.
The fourth limb of yoga is important: pranayama. Breath control is not an exercise that can be taken lightly. Done improperly it can cause harm. Done properly, some yogis believe that it can help us as humans live longer. For me, it helps in my practice to increase stability and balance. It also helps me to breathe through more challenging asanas. Initially, I struggle with pranayama and partly this was due to my not fully understanding what prana meant. Not fully grasping the importance of focusing on my breath even when told as a child to “count to ten and breathe”. That made no sense to me and it rarely, if ever, calmed me down.
What I have learned with yoga and the continued practice of breath control is just that, I have to practice! We are not taught how to breathe, we just breathe. This leads us to not understanding our level of control in regards to our breath. Off the mat, when I am feeling moments of anxiety, frustration, anger, or an emotion that threatens to take control of my behavior, if I am able to pause and breathe, I find that I am able to actually calm down! Not only calm down but also remove the fuzziness that comes into my head in high emotive states that lead to responses that are not the most productive. I am not saying this works all the time, it does not. Sometimes, I am unable to calm myself or relax. Yet, I believe that with continued practice, I will be able to achieve a firm grasp of breath control. Breath is life, to honor myself, I must also honor my breath (that also means brushing and flossing!).
Yoga is a spiritual experience. It is a conversation between my soul and my body. The asana or posture is the third limb of yoga. On the outside, the asana can appear as a beautiful display of strength and/or flexibility such as Vrschikasana I or scorpion pose (see header image). It can also appear as a very relaxed pose such as savasana. Both asanas are beautiful as the intention of the asana is to “reduce fatigue and soothe nerves” (Iyengar, 1966). When practicing asana, the yogi is mindful and focused completely on nurturing herself. Of course, we are human, so our minds tend to wander. When my mind wanders in yoga practice, I will fall out of a pose or start holding my breath. The more I practice, the more I find it easier to stay focused within.
Our bodies are to be respected as they are divine. The asana helps us to show respect to our souls that reside within our bodies. As a woman, there are days in which I look in the mirror and I like what I see. I like what I see externally and internally. The more I practice yoga, the more days I have like this as I recognize that God is within me and all around me. The asana of yoga helps me in making that connection, in understanding my own divinity. My mind is more peaceful because of my practice of asana, the third limb of yoga. It is more peaceful because the practice of asana increases health within the physical body. When your physical body is healthy, this affects your mind. Your physical body sends signals that says “Hey, everything is all good here” which leads your mind to respond by having clearer thoughts, being able to relax, or being able to be completely focused on tasks.
Yes, asana practice exercises your body but its purpose is not to make your body look good, its purpose is to make both your mind and body feel good to lead to acceptance of your own divinity. Isn’t that what we all want?
1. You do not need special clothes to practice yoga in. One yogi is not better than the other because one yogi pays higher prices for a yoga name brand and another yogi chooses to wear affordable and comfortable clothing to practice yoga in. It is not a competition between who has the cutest yoga attire (okay, it is for some). However, this goes against the niyama: santosa. Santosa means contentment, if a yogi is focused on whether or not she has on the best yoga clothes, she is not content. If she is not content, she will not be able to be in the present and concentrate on her practice. This applies to life in general, when we focus on comparing ourselves to what others have or trying to get more (of what we do not need), we are not able to be in the present on focus on what we do need.
2. Yoga practice is best done in the morning on an empty stomach; particularly the more vigorous practices. The empty stomach is very important, trust me on this one. Initially, I balked at practice in the morning, I’m barely awake and my body is stiff. However, that is perfect, it is a great way to wake up mind and body. It allows for me to shake the cobwebs out from dreamworld, clear my mind so that it can be pure and fresh for the day. Śaucha is a niyama that means purity. An evening practice can also bring about this same level of mental purity by helping me release the strains of the day. In a yoga practice, we utilize pranayama which assists with physical cleansing, opening and aerating our lungs. This assists in purifying our body which for me in the mornings, means loosening the tightness that sleep brings and in the evening, letting go of the tightness that comes from sitting at a desk, typing on a computer, using my cell phone, or physical stress from interpersonal interactions.
3. Instagram yoga challenges should be done in moderation (if at all). There are many yogis who frown upon IG yoga challenges and see them as narcissistic grabs for free yoga swag from a company or focusing on the look of an asana rather than teaching people how to properly get into an asana, how to breathe, or even just focusing on the first step of the asana. This can lead to those who participate hurting themselves attempting an asana that is beyond their ability. In addition, those hosts running the challenges are not practicing tapas, a niyama that means working without a selfish motive. Not to mention, many are not licensed yoga teachers so potentially can cause harm because they are not providing safe instruction and guidance. When I initially began participating in yoga challenges, I stuck to the challenges that offered classes that focused on the asana of the day. This was most helpful and helped my practices. However, I started joining challenges because a friend was participating and there was no specific focus it seems outside of the asana was “cool” or had a silly theme like Game of Thrones. This did not help with svādhyāya or study of self, which is an integral part of yoga practice. There was no relationship between myself and the host(s) of the challenges so no mutual respect and comradeship. There was just me trying to copy a picture and not learning.
4. Start from the beginning and practice the foundations daily. Having a strong foundation will lead to growth. There is no need to push my body harder than necessary. No need to frustration and see reaching a level as a battle to be won. I was seeking personal gratification in getting myself in an asana rather than how my practice was enhancing my relationship with myself and my faith. I would find myself despairing when I could not do a certain asana. This happens in my daily life as well, if I made a mistake or if something did not go the way that I wanted, I despaired. I was not practicing the niyama: Īśvara pranidhāna, faith in a greater power than myself. In having faith in a higher power, there is no need to despair because all things will come through that power. Life should not be seen as a battle, its a journey, an adventure which means there will be mountains to climb, hills to fall down on, and as long as I am able, I will get back up and keep moving.
5. It’s way more to yoga than asanas and meditation. I thought yoga would be boring and have a lot of chanting. I was wrong in both aspects. Yes, some yoga methodologies do have chanting such as ashtanga. Speaking of ashtanga, I had no idea that there was diversity in yoga. I thought it was all the same, was not aware of the different types such as: kundalini, vinyasa, hatha, bhakti, and many more. It would have been helpful to do a little bit more research before jumping into yoga. It is okay that I did not as I am doing it now. I am a self-taught yogi, this is possible no matter what anyone tells you. One thing that I have taken from my yoga practice; a beautiful thing, is that I will continue to be a learner and there is always room for growth.