Don’t forget your restorative practice
In Iyengar yoga, we focus a great deal on developing our strength and flexibility. Important as this is, it’s also vital to remember to incorporate some restorative work into your regular weekly practice. This could just be legs up the wall and savasana when you arrive home from work, tired and debilitated; or if you have time, you might want to do a couple of hours of restorative work, culminating in a focused pranayama session. But even if you only have a little time to do home practice, it’s vital that you don’t leave out this strategic support for your health and wellbeing. You could stop right now and lie on the floor – your colleagues undoubtedly already have legitimate qualms about your sanity, so disregard those raised eyebrows!
Most of us who have to fit our practice into our busy everyday lives – but make sure that some of your practice is done with awareness and intensity. Being present, being aware, being in the moment changes your practice and changes you.
Yoga is about personal experience
Interesting as it is to read about yoga, and find out more about this fascinating subject that has such a long and complex history, it is vital that we never lose touch with our personal experience of yoga. It is after all one of the most completely subjective activities, and you experience this when you have time and freedom to practice without distraction. When you do particular asanas, feel what happens in your body and your mind. Subsume yourself in the action and, if the stillness arises, accept and enjoy it. Observe the changes that occur in your breath and in your visceral response when you are holding a pose. Demand much of yourself without letting your ego take you beyond your present capabilities, and experience and cherish each moment of yoga as a thing of beauty. Then take that attitude into your everyday life. Rejoice in the present moment with the body and mind in harmony.
The Mind/Body Link
There was a (typically) wicked short story by Rohl Dahl, published in the 1970’s, that told the tale of a domineering, misogynistic scientist who insisted that his brain should be removed and kept functioning after death, in order to enable him to continue his vitally important work. His plan back-fires when he finds his now powerless self (a brain preserved in a glass jar and taken home for safe-keeping) subject to the wrath of his previously downtrodden wife.
The story reflects the generally held Cartesian idea that the brain and body operate in a separate and hierarchical fashion. However, neurological evidence over the past few decades has been supporting the view, held by eastern philosophers for millennia, that the mind and body cannot be viewed separately. They are interdependent and, far from being a passive recipient of the brain’s commands, the body can act independently, having active control of some of the brain’s functions. We have evolved as a holistic organism, and no one aspect of our selves operates in isolation. One only has to look at women’s menstrual cycle to see how hormones affect our circulatory, nervous, and respiratory systems amongst others. (My husband might maintain it affects my mental stability system too!)
Practicing yoga gives you access to techniques which help to harmonise and unite the self. The mind is no longer expected to direct and judge – it can just be. When the physical body, the breath, the emotions and the mind co-operate and bond in the now, it is possible to experience wholeness and bliss. You don’t have to be an experienced yoga practitioner to understand this: just be in the moment and rejoice in that experience.
“Take care of the present, and the future will take care of itself” Ramana Mararshi
One of the most valuable things that yoga can offer us is the ability to focus on the present. We have evolved as creatures with a vast cognitive capacity for planning. That is partly what has made us so successful as a species and it is an integral part of our identity as humans. However, like many successful adaptations, this can have a downside when we misuse this capacity by constantly worrying about the future, or indeed dwelling on negative aspects of the past. In some circumstances, this kind of mental behaviour can lead to stress and anxiety, which can manifest as a debilitating condition that severely impedes normal life.
The first thing to do if you do suffer from anxiety is to speak to your Iyengar yoga teacher about it. He or she is trained to deal with these sorts of conditions in a class situation. Then make sure that you incorporate a regular asana practice into your life. A number of poses are valuable if you incorporate them in your work every week: Adho Mukha Virasana with the head to a support; seated twists; prone Savasana; and Sirsasana (for more experienced students). Finally, don’t underestimate the power of focus. You might only get this when doing pranayama but many people experience a quiet meditative state in their asana work. So find which pose or sequence does this for you and practice taking your mind inward, surrendering to the pose, and letting the future get on without you for the time being!