Firstly, apologies for recent lack of blogging. I have been busy concentrating my efforts on building firm foundations for my future, trying to settle in back home after four and a half years abroad. I am thankful for my daily yoga practice, which really brings me back to the present. Even though my mind still wanders during practice, it definitely wanders less than when I’m not practicing!
So a few random musings over the last few weeks are jotted down below.. I hope you enjoy the read.
Q. How is yoga, or more precisely, asana/ physical posture practice, different to other forms of exercise?
I have recently taught a complete beginners class of yoga, and I have attempted to explain to my students how yoga is different to other forms of exercise, such as stretches before a soccer match, or a Pilates class. I think there is no one definitive answer, and so far, this is what I’ve come up with:
- You’ve got to feel it to believe it. A lot of what I’ve personally experienced from yoga, I can’t put into words.
- But the words of wisdom from one of my teachers are very pertinent to this question – yoga helps unite body, mind and breath.
- When the three factors (body, breath and mind) begin to work in sync, i.e. when you are focused and present with your body – that is yoga, and the true benefits of this practice will manifest.
- So the distinguishing factor, or that which sets the practice of yoga asana apart from other forms of exercise, is breath. Breath connects you to your body and mind. In most forms of exercise, we tend not to focus on the breath so much.
- We all know that breath is vital to life, and is a function that can be performed consciously and unconsciously, voluntary or involuntary. The breath therefore provides a connection between the body and mind, consciousness and unconsciousness. In many languages the words for spirit and breath are synonymous (Sanskrit: prana, Hebrew: ruach, Greek: pneuma, Latin: spiritus, Chinese: Qi).
So I like to associate the word yoga, which is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj” (meaning to bind, join, or unite), with the pure union of body, breath and mind. To unite these three aspects and ultimately gain peace of mind, yoga demands you remain totally in the present moment. Quoting Kino McGregor, “the premise of presence in yoga means that practice is more about listening to how your body truly feels in the moment rather than dictating from above what you want your body to do.”
The benefits of controlling the breath and meditation
And after asana (physical posture) practice, which is the third step in Patanjali’s eightfold path of Ashtanga Yoga, comes pranayama (regulation of breath), pratyahara (abstraction of senses), dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). One teacher explained to me that before dhyana, you have to master 1) pratyahara, and 2) dharana, i.e. these are preliminary steps on the path to meditation or dhyana. One interpretation of dhyana: a deeper awareness of oneness, which is inclusive of perception of body, mind, senses and surroundings, yet remaining unidentified with it. Here is a really interesting article published late last year on the benefits of meditation: Harvard Unveils MRI Study Proving Meditation Literally Rebuilds The Brain’s Gray Matter In 8 Weeks.
Celebration and living in the present – Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!
I passed an old house, in Sligo, Ireland earlier today, and written on the wall of the house (pictured below) is an excerpt from the poem, To a Child Dancing in the Wind, written by one of Ireland’s greatest poets, W.B. Yeats. Yeats’ poetry, prose and drama have always been associated closely with Sligo.
I had to share this with you all, given the special day that it is – Saint Patrick’s Day, where we celebrate everything Irish, and the Irish spirit of love for life. So like the innocent child in the poem, perhaps just temporarily, we all should throw caution to the wind, have one last dance, and truly immerse ourselves in the present moment. So today, let’s celebrate the things in our lives we feel lucky to have — our health, friends, families, selves, and those of you who are Irish – the beautiful land of our birth.