“The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.”
Lately I’ve been thinking about ways to describe yoga. Especially to new people who are asking questions about yoga. What is yoga? Will it help me lose weight? What do you do in a class? Why do you spend so much time teaching/studying/practicing?
When I first started thinking about how to describe yoga to people, my purpose was to come up with ways to “market” yoga and Iyengar Yoga. I wanted to help people find us, come to class, and introduce them to our practice.
I think about marketing sometimes. As a studio we depend on having students. Without students, there is no studio. And it is no secret that the practicalities of paying the rent, keeping the lights on, utilities and so forth are important considerations.
It is in the “marketing” of yoga where I get stuck. It’s hard to describe Iyengar Yoga to those who have not experienced it for themselves.
Of course, I could quote the benefits of yoga:
heal from injuries & chronic conditions.
I can cite articles with the scientific research backed by statistics on percentages of people who have achieved relief from pain and calmed their anxiety.
The usual attention-grabbing advertising words do not work here.
But there are benefits other than the surface ones. These are hard to describe.
Common advertising language has no words to describe yoga practice. Sure, the physical benefits attract people, but those who continue to practice over a period of months and years do so because the yoga gives them more than a healthy body.
Those who stick with it find something deeper. I could say “rich, deep, and profound.”
Even these descriptions fall far short of describing what yoga brings. Yoga is the ability to quiet the mind. It helps us provide a deeper experience of who we are — and we turn inward.
After 20 years of practice, I am just now starting to crave a deeper connection to myself…
Wanting to shift my attention inward. Wanting to focus less on the externals.
I have not always been interested in this.
It can be scary to go to an unfamiliar place. And spending time with myself and my ever-wandering mind has never souned appealing.
What will I find there? Maybe nothing. Maybe something I’d rather not see. Or maybe I can catch a glimpse of a new, less external (what am i wearing? how can I be fit?) way of living.
Inner connection has never been on my to-do list. Until now. And I can see that is a process — it comes in stages.
My first stage toward change has been to wish I wanted to.
And in the case of big changes, I am only capable of being willing to want to change.
These stages can last a very very long time before any real work happens.
I find myself in the middle of it now. Maybe you do too.
It helps to hear what others have to say on the subject.
Here’s what John O’Donohue, the Irish poet/philosopher says:
“The body is your only home in the universe. It is your house of belonging here in the world. It is a very sacred temple. To spend time in silence before the mystery of your body brings you toward wisdom and holiness.” – O’Donohue
“The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.” – Iyengar
For me, the keys to any transformative practice are:
PRACTICE + TIME.
Iyengar Yoga appeals to me precisely because it promises no quick fixes & promises that you will face many challenges.
In fact, one of the main ideals espoused in ancient yoga texts speaks right to this:
“The practice of yoga is firmly established when cultivated consistently, with devotion over a prolonged period of time.” (Sutra 1.14 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)
Yoga explains the experience of serenity, provides recommendations for overcoming obstacles, and outlines practices to de-clutter your mind.
The ongoing practice of discovery is where I find the benefits of practice.
Through yoga, I remember and re-remember that living the life I want takes time, effort, and a lot of commitment. I learn over and over how I can relate to any obstacles in new ways. I bump up against my stuck places, and yoga practice helps me consider what’s behind the stuck-ness.
Spend just a few minutes on the Internet, and you’ll find 5 easy steps to any intractable problem or diagnosis. Usually, the faster I move to solve a problem (without seeking to understand) only exacerbates the original problem.
Here’s an antidote to “10 easy steps:”
“[Yoga] aims to map out a path that all may follow. It offers advice, methods, and a philosophical framework at a level that even a newcomer to the practice of yoga may grasp. It does not offer shortcuts or vain promises to the gullible…the light that yoga sheds on life is something special. It is transformative. It does not just change the way we see things; it transforms the person who sees. It brings knowledge and elevates it to wisdom.”
–BKS Iyengar in his book Light on Life.
With shopping, wrapping, socializing, cooking, and baking, our yoga practice can fall by the wayside.
We begin to feel like there isn’t time or we’re too exhausted for even a little yoga practice.
Our minds slow down and we focus on what is important.
Our bodies become filled with energy and ease.
We can rest in ourselves and connect to our world in a way that feels calm and alert.
All that needs to be done, gets finished.
We feel joyful and we are actually able to enjoy the season.
Doing just a little yoga can ease feelings of anxiety about the holidays by bringing us home to our truest self. This is the place where we find comfort, happiness and peace.
Here it is, direct from the yoga sutras:
Now is the time for practice!
Urdvha Prasarita Padasana: Legs up the wall
Ardha Uttanasana: Half forward bend with hands on the wall.
Bharadvajasana (sitting in chair): Simple Twist
Gomukasana (arms only): shoulder stretch with or without a strap. any simple shoulder stretch will do. interlacing hands behind your back and stretching arms
Adho Mukha Svanasana: Downward Facing Dog Pose
Supta Baddha Konasana: Reclining Bound Angle Pose
When you take time for yourself, you will have more time for others.
Make this holiday a happy one.
Treat your self this season, and join me for one (or more) of the holiday classes.
Several EYC yogis & yoginis will hit the Memphis streets tomorrow to benefit of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Here’s a little yoga sequence to help you recover when you’ve challenged your limits in the running/walking department.
These poses help your whole system recover — and help your legs after you’ve exerted your energy.
Poses where you relax while you elevate legs your legs can have a profound effect on your whole system.
The top picture shows Rochelle practicing Upward Spread Foot pose (Urdhva Prasarita Padasana), and it is appropriate for nearly everyone. It can also be done with arms down at sides.
For experienced students, practice the inverted pose Viparita Karani.
Virasana helps improve circulation to your lower legs and can restore flexibility and proper alignment to joints your feet, ankles and knees.
This is the pose that Mr. Iyengar had the Indian Army do after their long training marches.
Click on the pic for instructions on this pose.
Mala Yoga Blog has spelled out a whole sequence for runners. You can benefit from (and learn special ways to practice) Virasana even if you have tightness in knees, ankles and feet.
In 18 years of practicing yoga, I’ve found that I will always have questions. Most days I have to make a Herculean effort to get on my mat and do something – anything.
With all of life’s ups and downs, here are my top 7 tips for your home practice:
Some of you will get on your mat for a few minutes every day. Some of you will do it once in a blue moon.
And it’s all ok!
Our community is open wide — enough to hold us all. From the uncertain new beginner to the mild-mannered weekend warrior to the most seasoned and strong yogi. It takes all kinds!
We are happy that you have chosen to associate yourself with our center.
We will support you as you seek to be well, to feel good and to connect to yourself in a deeper way.
And we look forward to guiding you in your yoga for a very long time.