3 Steps to Achieve a More Meaningful Yoga Practice and Peaceful Life
If you've been practicing with us for a while, you may recognize this message from last year. I was contemplating what to share with you this month and I kept coming back to this. It was so well received before, it's the kind of information that one can't review too many times, and I think our newer yogis will find it beneficial, too. The message is ultimately about that age-old adage, 'change starts within,' and how that applies to our yoga practice.
One of the magical gifts of yoga is that whatever you apply yourself to and improve on in your practice, will be applicable to the outside world as well. So, as you learn to focus your mind in yoga – your focus will improve at work. As you become more patient with yourself and others in yoga, you will be more patient at home. As you become more joyful in yoga, you will be more joyful wherever you go and this impacts all you come into contact with.
What is it that drives countless practitioners’ to work so hard in their yoga practice? Even as droves of people turn to yoga for health and healing, I've noticed that American students are often attracted to forcing their bodies into their imagined idea of a “yoga Olympian.” Many of us believe that if we were just a little more thin, a little more beautiful or handsome, our problems would be over.
It's easy to fall into a pattern of using the same aggressive tools we’ve learned in the business and sports world: Endure | Force | Intimidate | Dominate | Win. Since these methods are culturally reinforced, it is understandable that we attempt to apply the same mindset to a yoga practice. Yet the obsessive drive seems to be getting us everything we want except peace and happiness.
The philosophy of yoga suggests that a constant state of pushing, grasping, striving and goal setting is not only counterproductive in yoga, but ultimately damaging to our very spirit. Using the same methods that make us tense, anxious and obsessive to create a peaceful state just doesn't work, and that is a dilemma.
Move your focus off your outer body and on to your inner body. So, to really change how we practice, we need to first stop comparing and competing with ourselves and others, and start moving beyond thoughts of how our body looks.
Solving the dilemma is a process of reprioritizing our goals. If we acknowledge that what we want foremost is to live happily in a peaceful world, we must be willing to transform more than mere muscle tissue. Although Yoga appears to be primarily physical, what makes it radically different from western “workouts,” is that yoga is the harmonizing of:
The MIND — Intention; mental focus, self-inquiry. Learning to discriminate between pure awareness and the objects of awareness.
The SPIRIT — Breathing and emotional focus. Involving concentration of feeling, and relationship with one’s higher Self, or surrender to God, in whatever form you understand it.
The BODY — Involving a physical regime including movement or postures that infuse our life force and intention throughout our entire being.
Transformation comes when we apply attention simultaneously to all three pillars: body, mind, and breath (or spirit). As all three harmonize, we begin to experience ourselves more deeply, and we also happen to become stronger, more flexible, and calm. We even sleep peacefully through the night.
3 Steps to Achieve a More Meaningful Practice and Peaceful Life
The first thing to do is close your eyes and focus on your intention. In other words, aim at something. Dedicate your practice to a meaningful transition you wish to have in your life. An example here might be Peace, Forgiveness, or Patience. There is an old saying that if you aim at nothing you’re sure to hit it. But when you direct your mind and heart in one direction, it gives your actions great power.
Your spirituality, however you define it, can be infused into your body so your body radiates who you are in essence – and what you stand for in this world.
Perhaps one reason we are afraid to breathe deeply is because we know deep down that breath is connected to our emotions. If we are feeling stressed out and not paying much attention to our feelings, breathing deeply may be terrifying. However, shallow and erratic breathing can create two kinds of catastrophes. One is disease; unexpressed grief over decades can create diseases like cancer. Two, we can destroy our relationships; we tend to hurt the people we love the most because we are carrying unaddressed emotions.
We can consciously utilize our practice to feel into our underlying emotions and give them an appropriate and safe channel for release through the breath. Such a healing practice can change our life as it changes our behavior, and that affects all of our relationships.
Practice your asanas (postures) with focus on your breath. Breathe into your heart center, breathe in light – filling the lungs completely, breathe out the past, that which you no longer need. If you have a spiritual practice, it can be helpful to use your own visual image of a higher source or name for God. Inhale as if you were inhaling such energy; exhale all that is not useful. Breathe into your entire body while in a posture, as you move, or as you hold in stillness.
When you begin to feel overwhelmed or fatigued, rather than push, rest a few moments. (Even machines need to rest.) Allow yourself to move into child’s pose at least four times in an hour and half practice. Learn the difference between an all-out state and a rest state. Many overachievers know only the concept of “all or nothing.” Explore the space between zero and ten. Try practicing at level seven, not ten. This will develop sensitivity, patience, and kindness.
The physical asanas alone do not necessarily make us happier, more spiritual, or more content human beings. But when one is inspired by an intent to transform, and from this intention we breathe, then the mind quiets and the energetic heart center begins to open. When this happens, grace happens - change happens.
May your holiday season and your Yoga practice be peaceful and bright!
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