I was introduced the other day as ‘A yoga teacher, and a person.’ How refreshing. All to often it can feel that because I teach Yoga I am apart from the regular members of the human race and that I should somehow float just above the ground and glide rather than walk as I am so serene and pure. This is not the case at all. If anything at all I feel that I am more human than most. I also like to express and share how I feel sometimes and this can be alarming to people who may have assumed I really am tranquil at all times. In the words of a good friend recently when talking about trying to be more stable emotionally, ‘Who wants to be that, we have soul we have life we are real, we are us, we have no lids, we don’t have rules. We go with our gut instinct, we are the wild ones.’
And so I stand on the Yoga mat, ending the class practice and I hear myself say ‘raise your arms overhead and gather in the energy from the crown, to the third eye, to the throat and into the heart. Take the hands to the heart and focus there.’ When teaching its often the case that its as though someone else is speaking, passing on the ancient wisdom, it can’t be me after all, I am only human. As I bring my hands down in Anjali Mudra past my face I smell the sweet oily odour of Ayurvedic Massage oil from earlier in the day when I had been offering treatments. I love the smell it’s so evocative of India, of adventure, travel and devotional practices. In that moment I really am feeling grounded and focused, like a Yoga teacher.
Fast forward two hours, later that same evening and I find I can’t sleep. My mind is whirring and analysing life experiences past and present. Exaggerating some scenarios, totally inventing others. 1130pm, midnight, 2am. I’m stuck in a cycle. Can’t sleep, wake early, total exhaustion, yet at the same time, excitement at all life is offering me. A bit edgy due to tiredness during the following days, therefore often even more forthright in my interactions with other people, so perhaps surprising in my responses from other people’s point of view (who constantly expect me to be levitating and serene). Then with the Yoga, Sattva returns all too briefly. Temporary relief. The effects once again soon fade, thoughts return and with them sleeplessness and so it goes on.
So it is important that you understand that Yoga is a system of psychological tools. In order to for it to be effective it myst be practised regularly. In the West we often see it a a series of postures (asanas) to be achieved and strived for. The actual definition of Yoga from the sage Patanjali who wrote the Yoga Sutras is:
This means ‘Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness.’ (translation by Georg Feuerstein, Sutra 1:2)
Patanjali also said: It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed.(translation from T.K.V. Desikachar, Sutra 1:14)
Therefore Yoga is about stilling the mind, and there are a myriad of ways to go about this, including but absolutely not only postures. It also requires consistent commitment to practise on a minimum daily basis and introduction of other lifestyle changes to begin to have a proper cumulative effect. The Sattvic state which I referred to earlier is brought about by a balanced diet, free from food that stimulates or sedates you, free from any intoxicating substances, regular balanced Yoga practice according to your individual energy on the day and a good regular daily routine to encourage overall balance in body and mind.
This practice takes dedication and devotion. It can feel very challenging at times to live in this way, but if we can keep this focus even in difficult times it can be incredibly helpful. If we don’t manage to stay focused but regain the focus as soon as we can this is also ok, and incredibly helpful. Remember we are all only human.
Because Yoga is about stilling the mind it tends to attract people who have ‘stuff’ going on, challenges and difficulties in life, emotional upheavals, life changes, and general mind disturbances. This includes Yoga ‘teachers’. Most of us didn’t intend teaching Yoga, we started for the same reasons as many other people and then started passing on what we had learned. Yes shock horror Yoga teachers are human! We have lives off the mat and we are not saints, we too struggle with life sometimes and all of it’s turbulence. I believe that this makes us into more real, more aware, more sensitive (if sometimes a little outspoken!) people and therefore makes the Yoga we share even more valuable.
Yoga helps us (all of us, you me, everybody who practices). It helps to calm the mind, it’s not always easy and we know this. So why don’t we get real and be honest, share our real experiences and examples about how Yoga has helped us? You and I both know, sometimes the last thing you feel like doing when you’re in a turmoil in life is getting onto your Yoga mat, so sometimes you don’t. Because Yoga takes your awareness right into the present moment, therefore right into what you’re experiencing and feeling right now, and that’s not always such a great experience. Its ok to admit that too.
What is the primary reason that I personally continue to do Yoga?
Yoga is always there for you. It stops the thoughts for while. It relaxes physical tension and cares for the physical and energetic bodies. It won’t die, it won’t leave you, it won’t lie to you, steal from you or cheat on you. It’s a constant consistent honest support in an ever changing world and an ever challenging life. At times, Yoga is all I have, and, as long as I follow the practices, it delivers every single time.