We all come to practice in the first place for different reasons. I know when I first became involved the reasons were largely to have a physical practice, with very unreflective ideas as to why that was a good thing at the time. I confess it was quite painful at first, as my approach and the way I was taught was a little neolithic. But I somehow persisted and it has been a wonderful journey of opening up all sorts of dimensions in my life.
The great thing about Yoga is that it is a very plastic practice, in that it gives back to you what you put into it, without any kind of judgment. The original Sanskrit word for Yoga does not only mean joining up, it also means the method of joining up. This yoking or joining up is reflected in the repose we sometimes find in the practice. Yoga supplies a very useful toolkit, but we ourselves are the method by which we use those tools. This is what Yoga teaches us. We learn to become articulate and skillful about what is appropriate and meaningful for us, and we know this by the effect it has on us. And the effects are generally incredibly good. At a physical level it improves and maintains the basic functionality of the body, and in particular the joints well into old age. It is different from going to the gym. The practice is far more balanced and addresses not only the outer body, but also all the physiological systems and in particular helps to teach us to breathe naturally, which is rare in this modern life.
Apart from a few bits and pieces I feel much healthier and more energized now, than when I was a much younger man. It is healing and deeply restorative. The scientific study of Yoga is still in its infancy and to date various studies have showed promising results for all sorts of conditions, but by far the most measurable stand out effect is the way that it brings calmness and evenness to both mind and body. We might think we are are only doing Yoga for physical reasons, but it is almost inevitable that we find changes in the way we experience ourselves, including our emotional and energetic lives.
Traditionally asana practice is only the tip of the body that is Yoga. It s a much broader science, bringing benefits through meditation and breathing practice in particular. If that is what we seek, it can provide a discipline from which we learn our ‘method’ for whatever inclination we uncover on the way. We talk about measurable benefits, but it is perhaps the unmeasurable benefits that yield great good in the end. Even or perhaps especially in asana practice, it can just be a physical practice and this is all to the good. It can also be a wonderful way of exploring all the nuances of ourselves, of allowing our own bodies to reflect back to us how they want to open. This aspect can feel quite frankly, full of love. Whatever we want from a Yoga practice, experience proves that we benefit best when we are quite spacious. So rather than impose on our practice how we think it should be, which can lead to injury, we remain open to how the practice teaches us about ourselves, even at a physical level, and respond accordingly.
In the spirit of this I intend to teach the next 4 Sunday morning Hatha classes from the 22nd of January, having as a focus, opening and responding to space, both outer and inner. Each class will approach this perspective from a different angle, and will they will also each have a different anatomical focus and a different challenge.
By Derek Elliot
Book into Derek's Sunday morning Hatha classes here.