When we take a yoga class, emphasis is typically placed on the physical posture. We also see this promoted on the cover of yoga magazines, articles and books. Unfortunately this emphasis on only the physical aspect – creeps into our personal practice in class and at home. If we want to truly go “deeper” in our practice, we need to go beyond the physical.
While it is crucial and important to develop awareness of the body, and beneficial alignment, how much are we aware of our mind during the practice? Not only the fact that we are thinking while in a posture, but more importantly – the quality of our thoughts which show us the state of our mind if we are able to become aware of it objectively through meditation.
In the physical practice of yoga, we put ourselves into all sorts of shapes and positions. These postures and how we achieve them help us to notice not only the tightness in our bodies but also the tightness in our minds. The postures were designed to not only make the body limber and healthy but ultimately to calm and center the mind, to entice it to join a higher state of awareness – what we refer to in the beginning as meditation
First we need to bring the attitude of awareness and the quality of curiosity about ourselves into our practice.
Once we are able to become more aware of the body, the next step is to become aware of how we are breathing in a posture and the next step is to become aware of the quality of our mental state in the posture. You can go backwards too. Either way we come to the same place:
1: awareness of physical posture 2: awareness of breath. 3: awareness of mental state
1: awareness of mental state 2: awareness of breath 3: awareness of physical posture
We find when we look at all three – that the state of the mind affects the breath and the body. Working backwards we can also see that putting ourselves into a physical posture can affect the breath and ultimately the quality of the mind.
The breath itself is an indicator of both, like the hub of a wheel. If the breath is rapid, or if we are holding the breath in a posture perhaps we are afraid, nervous, thinking too hard. If the breath is relaxed and fluid, our minds are calm and also centered.
The attitude of awareness implies a willingness to direct our mind and our thoughts inward toward ourselves. This action of awareness inward combined with awareness and control of breath – brings more vital energy into us, what we call “prana” in yoga.
The attitude of curiosity about ourselves (or our Self) is important to begin our practice. Curiosity implies a willingness to observe ourselves – free from judgement, which can sometimes be a negative mental state. We do not want to have the attitude of judging ourselves positively or negatively during our practice. The yogi seeks to be neutral minded during the practice. Tightness in the body or mind can be an awareness, not necessarily needin to be perceived as good or bad.
The attitude of Compassion for ourselves is key. Are we practicing in an aggressive way with ourselves? Are we judging ourselves for what we are perceiving as limitations in the body instead of loving and accepting ourselves? Are we able to try our best, try new things and be okay with the fact that we are doing our best? Are we constantly striving for more and more physical perfection, when if we look around honestly, we can see that everyone will come across physical limitations at one point or another, either from an injury or old age.
Which brings us to an attitude of Change and/or Acceptance. In some cases we may find tightness in the body / mind and after becoming aware of it, we work to change it in our daily practice. In some cases we may find tightness in the body / mind and realize that it may never go away, but we still need to be aware of it, and we need to accept it into our practice in a loving and compassionate way. More importantly we may find that by watching our mind we have many thoughts that are not serving us, such as fear, negativity, judgement, anger, holding grudges, outdated ideas of ourselves. If we watch them with awareness and compassion we can give these thoughts the space they need to transform into something positive. Real change always begins with awareness and acknowledgement.
It is important to become aware of what our goals are. Some come to the practice of yoga with a physical goal. Wanting to lose weight, become more flexible. But if we want to have a practice that can last our whole lives, our practice needs to go beyond the physical. The deeper aspects of the practice may be more subtle, but they I promise you – they are definitely more profound and lasting.