I recently held one of my Sacred Women’s Yoga classes and afterwards a woman came up to me and commented that she was brought to tears at one point in my class. She explained how she felt a flood of emotions coming up from a particular movement/posture and how it was so refreshing to do an alternative style of yoga; not the typical ego-focused, westernised yoga that focuses primarily on the body, aiming to look good physically. It touched me deeply that I touched her deeply; that I was an enabler, that I could provide this woman with a beautiful, safe space to authentically express herself. It was only 12 months ago when I was a blubbering mess on a yoga mat wandering what to do with myself and my life. It was definitely a ‘pinch yourself’ moment for me…a moment to stop, breathe and recongise where I am at and be grateful that I did follow my heart and not my head.
For me yoga is meant to feel transformative and restorative. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the likes of Bikram and hot power yoga/vinyasa practices, in fact I love them for a good work out, detox and to tone up, however the reason why I decided to become a yoga instructor was because of the emotional and spiritual impact of the practice…not for looking good. That’s just an added bonus!
Yoga has always been a bit of a life boat for me over the years. Whenever I needed some me-time, to work through a personal issue in my head/heart or to come back to my inner-peace I would practice yoga; dropping in every few months then dropping out every few months, using it whenever I needed it, like a crutch. It wasn’t until I went through a relationship break down and a tumultuous period of my life about a year ago when I decided to quit my gym membership (besides I was just getting bigger and bulkier) and instead take yoga more seriously. At that stage I couldn’t even hold Warrior 1 for five breaths without sweating profusely. It was when I was perched vulnerably in frog pose (an intense hip and groin opener) sobbing uncontrollably, when I knew I needed yoga in my life forever, in some capacity. At that stage I had no idea I would go to India and be a teacher myself 12 months later..
Before I became a teacher myself, my yoga teachers at Power Living in Neutral Bay Sydney were massively influential in my life. Their classes and style of teaching had a huge impact on my daily life, kind of like a school teacher in primary school – they shaped my development, except as an adult. You see, the thing is we still need these kinds role models in our life to educate, enlighten and open us up to new concepts, ideas, poses, information or new ways of looking at something. I use the term role models loosely, as you might not wish to be a yoga teacher yourself, however you can take any little snippet of advice from a teacher in every class. A typical yoga class will always have a theme such as balance, patience, love, gratitude, presence or compassion, and that theme will thread throughout the class as well as in your own personal intention. As a grown up, I believe it is increasingly important to have spiritual or karmic role models, teachers, mentors or life coaches to help guide you along your path, either passively or actively. They might come into your life just for a few minutes or they may last years depending on what you’re going through. And this is why it is important to feel a connection with your yoga teacher…because they’re not just teaching you yoga, they are having an impact in your life in such a positive way. Well, they should be…because they sure did for me! I would walk into a class with the world on my shoulders, tight, tense and lost…and I would walk out feeling light as a feather, care-free and blissful. I will be eternally grateful to my teachers who created that space for me and lead me to where I am today. I still go along to random classes here and there because I need to fill up my glass and “you can never stop learning…always be a student.”
So remember, yoga is not just a physical thing! In Pratanjali’s Yoga Sutras of Ashtanga Yoga (ashta=eight, anga=limb), the physical poses are just one part of the 8 limbs of yoga:
1. Yama: ethical standards and sense of integrity in ones life. There are five:
Ahimsa – nonviolence
Satya – truthfulness
Asteya – nonstealing
Brahmacharya – continence or celibacy (more explained here because damn how much do we LOVE sex!)
Aparigraha – noncovetousness
2. Niyama: self-discipline and developing your own spiritual or meditation practices (even just taking a quiet walk alone in the park). Again, there are five:
Saucha – cleanliness
Samtosa – contentment
Tapas – heat; spiritual austerities
Svadhyaya – study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self
Isvara pranidhana – surrender to God
3. Asana: the physical postures practiced in yoga. Through our practice we develop discipline and concentration which is a very important stage of our spiritual growth and meditation.
4. Pranayama: breath control exercises – our prana is our “life force”
These first four stages concentrate on refining our personalities, gaining mastery over the body, and developing an energetic awareness of ourselves, all of which prepares us for the second half of this journey, which deals with the senses, the mind, and attaining a higher state of consciousness.
5. Pratyahara: withdrawing our awareness away from the external world. Self-observant and detachment from our senses, people, material, habits or cravings.
6. Dharana: concentration of the mind. Slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object, i.e. an energy center in the body, image, vision or silent repition of a sound like om. Leading to…
7. Dhyana: Meditation or contemplation is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Where dharana practices one-pointed attention, dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all.
8. Samadhi: Patanjali describes this as a state of ecstasy or enlightenment.The meditator merges with their point of focus and transcends the Self altogether, coming to realise a profound connection to the Divine, an interconnectedness with all living things. Experiencing complete bliss and one with the Universe. Peace.
So there you go! And you thought yoga was just a bit of stretching hoo haa. Yoga is a continual devotion and can help you in so many areas of your life. Yoga is a process. A progress. It’s not about attaining that perfect posture or the highest state of consciousness. It’s about the journey as we benefit greatly at every single stage.