Alertness and Relaxation - Off the mat

This weekend I had a conversation with a good friend of mine, who made a very interesting observation when reading my last story ‘practice self care and be a warrior of light’ on YOGI TIMES.

He has just recently started practicing Yoga and he started reading a lot on it. We discussed the notion of practicing Yoga ‘on the mat’ and he felt it was overrated ‘being on the mat’. Why does the mat get so much importance?...A notion of being depending on the mat…

I remember in our Yoga teacher training our BelovedYoga teachers gave us homework: to practice our Sun Salutations without a mat just on the floor at home and note down what we experienced.

And yes, I realized that we get so attached to our mats, the comfort of not slipping and feeling a strong foundation to practice on. When I felt the carpet or floor under my feet and hands, I was aware that I was alert and had to engage my core more to form a stable foundation, the stihra, for the easiness and sweetness of the asanas (poses), the sukha in the Sun Salutations.

As stated in Pantañjali Yoga Sūtras  2.46 ‘sthirasukhanmāsanam’ , translated ‘Āsana must have the dual qualities of alertness and relaxation’(T.K.V. Desikachar).

Like a balancing act with everything in life, an equilibrium between strength/alertness and comfort/ease. In life many things can happen that challenges our strength and flexibility and we need to adapt. Like walking on ice and feeling your feet loosing their grip instead of staying in your knees and trying to slide on the ice. The same in life… once we get too attached to our taken for granted stability, it will be harder for us to adapt.

What about if we felt the stability, the strength within ourselves to practice Yoga ‘on the mat’, also ‘off the mat’? Because within ourselves lies the true strength that we human beings all embody and tend to forget. Our true self has been conditioned by our society to rely on certain set of behaviors and ways of thinking. We alone can form our strength to act and walk through life with easiness and happiness without external factors, which change and constantly tend to influence us on a daily basis. Our strength is within all of us and we can use it to practice Yoga ‘off the mat’ with easiness and clarity without struggle and more listening to our own teacher.

However, we do sometimes in life need some support from outside, from family and friends to build our foundation in life and ’walk our path’.

Like a beginner taking his/her first Yoga class and would need the support from the mat (and the guidance of a teacher) in order to build strength and build his/her foundation for the future Yoga practice.

The same principle ‘sthirasukhanmāsanam’ (Pantañjali, Yoga Sūtras 2.46) can be adopted in life.

Asanas.... aesthetics vs your own individual Yoga

After a lot of thinking I finally decided to fill the Azure Yoga Gallery with images... Yet again, I feel the great importance to emphasise that images of fancy yoga poses is not why we practice Yoga ;-) hint hint... Maybe we have started out this way and fell in love with the aesthetics of Yoga poses without understanding the meaning of each asana (defined as 'pose', literally meaning 'sitting down' in Sanskrit) and it's benefits.

One of our teachers, Jafar Alexander just recently reminded me how we can define Vinyasa Yoga... 'a symphony of energies through the flow of breath connected with movements'.. Each component has a meaning and when connected together we flow through the practice... Each pose with our breath works with energies... 

So each of us has a different asana adapted to our own unique breath, body, mind and real self.... Yoga is more than about poses.... And you will notice with your daily practice that your body feels differently every single day... Not only your body but also your mind...You will feel stronger yet flexible to face each days' challenges... healthier with a calm mind..

Practice, feel it and think about it!;-)

©   Gregory Bonin de Pissarro e MacJames   Eka Pada Rajakopatasana (Mermaid Pose)

© Gregory Bonin de Pissarro e MacJames

Eka Pada Rajakopatasana (Mermaid Pose)

From doing to being!

'The point is that asana is infinite, underlining a practice that is about process rather than attainment of some preconceived perfect form.'- Mark Stephens



Reflection On My Personal Journey Of Teaching Yoga

In the past two months I have learned a lot about myself, life, family and I am still continuing to discover more about myself during the continuous journey of teaching.

Firstly, I understand now even more that being a Yoga teacher is being a student for your lifetime. This journey so far has helped me to let go of my past and move on….Stop punishing me and let go of my guilt and my ego quieting down..

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. We all have our own truths and yoga takes us through such an individual journey, unlike anything else I have experienced so far in my life. In Classical Ballet I was taught to be either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ dancer, to have a ‘suitable’ or ‘non-suitable’ body structure and to do the poses ‘correctly’ or ‘incorrectly’, everything is about aesthetics and superficiality and to survive the competition. I was part of a structural system that dictated me to do as I was told and not listen to my body, love my talent and feel it.

Eventually, my body screamed so loud and I had no other choice and give up my dancing career to not have a hip replacement by the age of 35.

Then I started Yoga with home DVDs. After a while with hatha classes, Bikram and later on Ashtanga and now Vinyasa. I thought I was listening to my body..…

Two months ago I realized I wasn’t. I was pushing my body to the edge and sought again after a structured system, which made me feel not allowing me any freedom to question, whether it felt good for my body or even, whether I was injuring it, fighting with myself on the mat.

I have always a been good in improvising when I used to dance and had a creative spirit and Vinyasa Yoga helps me to enhance this creativity. For me music and movement in form of asanas, help me to quieting my mind and focus on my breathing. Don’t get me wrong I still love other yoga styles and practice them, but more mindfully without pushing my limits any more.

I learned that Yoga is not all about the physical part of asanas. Through our course and discussion on the Yoga Sutras and Bhagavad Gita, I was able to understand what in my life has repeated itself numerous times. Situations I ‘ve been in that have always made me feel uncomfortable, intimidated and even bullied at times. I gained my voice to speak my ‘truth’ through this course, my teachers and my fellow yoga practitioners. All my life I was chasing a career and money. I didn’t listen to my heart. Something always didn’t feel ‘quite right’. And this time I changed my path in my life consciously without trying to worry what the future will bring.

This is for me a major milestone as I have always been too scared neither to ‘open up my mouth’ and speak my truth nor to change my professional path to something that I love practicing every day without feeling that it is my duty.

Through this course I also restarted my own daily home practice, which doesn’t make me too depended on set yoga class times. I can organize my life the way, how I like to schedule my day and enjoy yoga on a daily basis.

Teaching fellow yoga practitioners is so rewarding and I love bringing them closer to themselves through yoga. It’s for me like giving us a piece of freedom, openness, compassion and peace in our minds. Mind you, teaching isn't always easy, as I can tell we need to be vigilant and hold on to our freedom and openness. Sometimes we become complacent and think we know everything, happiness will constantly prevail within ourselves without guarding our mind and consciously listening and being aware of our breath. But we don’t! We constantly learn and learn each moment and day. We have no time to not be vigilant or aware of our mind, our kleshas (afflictions: ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, clinging to live), taking over in moments that aren’t that easy to handle. It is like a cloud slowly covering us and before we even realise what is happening, we see ourselves in darkness and in the same old thinking pattern: worry and despair. However, now I notice when I sink into the negative thinking patterns and feel vulnerable. The past tend to catch to up with us. The worry of the future starts to cloud our better judgment. That’s where our asanas, pranayama and dhyana helps us to be aware and recondition our thinking. Discernment is another great factor that we've been taught. I love this word ‘discernment’ as nothing in life is ‘black or white’. Every one of us speaks their own truth, and we are here to communicate our truths and question them. We can help each other. Be compassionate and just ‘be’. We always ‘do’. And finally I just want to’ be ‘ me. Take our practice off the mat in our lives.

I have been in many yoga classes, where you’ve been told: that this is the way how we teach yoga…. just breath through it (especially in times of physical discomfort or even pain), this is the way how it is…. Without ever giving us a reason why it is this way.. And I never questioned it! I love the fact that we've been taught to question things and to try to find out, why we do certain things in a specific manner. We've been always told, why we did specific things in class. Maybe we will gain better understanding after we ask why or most likely the other person will start asking why and tries to find the answers. This gives me even more so a reason to listen to our fellow yoga practitioners and learn from each other and empower us to have a voice. Empowerment is such an important concept and we tend to forget that we don’t need to make others dependent on us and vice versa we don’t need to depend on others. I have no intentions to force my specific yoga style upon a fellow yogi and tell this person what is correct or incorrect. Every body is different and we should worship our bodies as our temples.  Ahimsa (non-violence) is for me my close companion in everything I do. I have focused on Ahimsa as I haven’t taken care of myself for a long time.

Since then I try to be as mindful as possible in my own practice and when I teach. I try to understand how my body and our fellow yogi’s body function. Not everyone has the same anatomical, muscular and bone structure and therefore I like to continuously learn how Yoga is so accessible for everyone.  It is very important for that we teach yoga in a safe way so that we can avoid injuries as much as possible. We cannot control how our fellow yogis use their bodies, but we can try to create a safe haven within our class. We, ourselves are our own worst enemies and that’s why Ahimsa helped me to stop pushing myself to the limit, accept how my mind and/or body felt like in this particular moment, accept my surroundings and try to work within myself, as we can’t change others unless we reflect exactly what we would like to welcome in our lives. The ‘mirror effect’ another so important subject..

This whole teaching journey teaches me daily how to live my life and I am very happy that we had great teachers, who have guided us through this journey. Thank you for empowering us and not make us depending on you and teaching us to empower our fellow yogis.  Every class I open and close with ‘Namaste Namaha’ I imagine our circle and it warms my heart!