Maybe it’s genetics, maybe it was 17 years of Ballet that fostered my limberness or maybe I’m just lucky… But this isn’t really about luck or bendiness, it’s about YOGA!
I often wonder why it took me so long to find this gem – I’d always stretched, I took gymnastics briefly and of course there was ballet. Starting as a toddler, quitting school to pursue it as a career and then starting life from scratch after a car accident but I never really got into yoga!
Dancers quite often end up doing Pilates or yoga post-career but all the yogis I’d seen were really just dirty hippies who never showered and spent hours sitting in some weird lotus position Om-ing in the hope of finding meaning from their lives.
Years ago (8 and a bit to be exact) my former ballet teacher and friend Lainey told me about yoga. Truthfully, I started my journey in the hope that it might help settle some of my mind issues, anxieties and give me time in a day where the world would be quiet and I could be happy.
It’s a common misconception that yoga is just about headstands and bad personal hygiene but in fact is a whole way of life – a nourishing and nurturing practise that fosters kindness to the self and the external world.
Here’s just a few of the things I’ve learnt from taking to the mat.
Flexibility is of the mind NOT the body
The first time I heard my teacher say: “Body is not stiff, mind is,” I was speechless. Why? Because if I had a penny for every person that tells me they won’t do yoga because they are not flexible, I’d probably have like 256 pounds by now!
When it dawns on you that it’s the mind that starts the fear cycle, and how powerful the breath is in aiding flexibility, you find that with the right teacher, you can indeed touch your toes in a forward bend, or if not right then, at least be on the way for it to happen in a few classes.
You can measure life-span in breaths, not years
Once we break away from thinking that we have X many years to live and instead look at it as how many breaths we have left, life makes a turn towards the nose. Every breath becomes important.
Yogis are connoisseurs of the breath. They treat it like the fine and rare treasure it is. They study it and aim at making it smooth, long, and peaceful. Yoga is a breathing practice.
The most important organ
Did you say the heart? I’m afraid that’s not so for yogis.
Did you say your genitals? Tsk tsk!
The main organ in the body from the yogic perspective is actually two of them: the lungs. And when you think about it:
a) breathing is the most important function (as per (2)) then this makes sense,
b) if you need both the heart and the lungs to live or else you die, then why not chose lungs? After all, they are AS important as the heart, and finally
c) the workings of the heart are pretty much beyond our control (unless we are very advanced at yoga) but the workings of our lungs (expand capacity, slow their rhythm) is in the realm of our control through the way in which we breathe (on which yogis tend to become experts).
It’s a 24/7 practice
True yogis practice yoga every second of the day. You don’t choose yoga. It chooses you.
You are not just practicing when you’re standing on your head, you’re practicing when you delete the crappy people out of your life so your mental energy is not totally consumed by hating or judging and can be directed to more beautiful and useful things, like becoming the radiant person you already are.
These suggestions for daily life are all included in what some consider the “bible” of yoga, a compilation written 2,500 years ago — give or take — called the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The specific line about dealing with crappy people does not say much. It just says: “ignore” (sadly still something im yet to master)
If there is ONE measurement by which you could see if a person is truly a yogi, it is that they will be kind.
They will not make you feel inferior or treat you with disrespect; they will not be mean to you, not face-to-face and not on the internet, or through any medium. You will feel that they are not even talking behind your back.
When I started acting like a yogi, it saved me thousands of hours a year of anxiety time.
Your body hates you!
This is how the path of yoga goes for those who take it seriously (i.e.: practice every day and focus on it):
You realize that your body is really disgusted with you.
The body with its magnificent intelligence begins to inform us of things we need to consume less of (junk food, bad news, intriguing affairs) so we can be more supple and light.
Suddenly we start to eat more nutritious things and on that note we also begin to go to the bathroom more often. We are less up-tight.
Fact: the more you poop, the happier you will be.
That means you get rid of the bad stuff in your body. The bad stuff in your mind. The bad stuff in your heart. All Garbage!
Turning dust into gold
If you notice, all the points above have one thing in common; they all contain the miracle of changing ourselves in a gradual and positive way.
That is what is meant in alchemy, when the shaman or the magician or whatever the character is that turns dust into gold does so.
If you do yoga, in six months your body changes, but almost immediately your mind changes, your emotions change, your presence changes, and everyone will notice your new shine.
Inversions are an anti-aging revelation
If you look at yourself in the mirror and then look at a photo of you from 10 or 20 years ago you will see that some things have changed. It would be silly to pretend that the sagging of the skin reflected on the mirror is not also happening inside, meaning to our internal organs. It is.
Inversions, especially when done well (best to learn with a teacher) with smooth and long breathing, and for a long time, help all internal organs return to their original place because they have gravity working for it.
Isn’t that something?
Inversions bring about superpowers too, but that may be way too mind blowing, after all this is only my first article here, we are just getting to know each other.
Lotus pose – the ship of enlightenment
The fascinating thing about the lotus pose (sitting cross-legged on the floor) is that it provides the best balancing foundation for meditation.
It is so not because the spine happens to be in perfect alignment and the soles of the feet are facing upwards (not draining energy towards the earth), but also because the area of the perineum tends to contact the floor (if the pose is done right) and harness the energy of the root chakra.
The root chakra is where all of our energy sprouts from, and as it travels upwards we nourish the brain in our quest for divine intelligence. Some call that the raising of kundalini. The lotus pose is the laboratory for it. It might take years to master, but it is worth it.
Don’t try levitating though. You might hurt yourself.
Wisdom from a Yogi aka B.K.S. Iyengar
He says that for every 30 minutes of asana (poses) practice we must allow 5 minutes of rest (savasana or corpse pose) so that the nervous system has time to come back to normal, quiet, center, and so we are not over-excited throughout our days.
How many of us knew that? But more importantly, in this rushed world, how many of us will respect it?
If you feel like you don’t have 5 minutes of time, then that’s a sure sign you need to rest 10 minutes. Take time to stop. Stop time to take.
There you have it! Do you practise Yoga? What have you learnt?
Lots of Love
Alex Brennan & The Model Handmade