Everyone’s a yoga teacher. Insta fame blesses the bendiest and the yoga lifestyle is now a properly established and aspirational phenomena. More hearteningly, yoga is rightly being recognised as an important remedy for numerous mental and physical imbalances and there’s a big upsurge in remedial programs based around yoga which come much closer to the subject here at hand. In short, there’s a lot of yoga about (and big up JP Sears for his hilarious observations) but few people in the mainstream are talking about the intrinsic, fundamental transformative effect that a consistent personal practice has. Why? Probably because it’s not particularly dramatic, glamorous or aesthetically pleasing, it’s not a photogenic, group activity, it can’t be measured by before and after photos or double blind placebo controlled studies and it is slow, methodical work. Nonetheless, those that undertake this road less travelled are some of the strongest, most easy-going, steady and dependable humans you could have the pleasure of meeting.
I perceive huge dissonance in many, between the human experience and our understanding of it and of our own process. Being so constantly focussed externally, it becomes increasingly challenging to not only have awareness of one’s internal processes but to maintain the attention span that will allow sufficient comprehension of it (let alone the awareness of anyone else’s internal process and thus the ability to communicate well)
With the prevalence of symbols and shorthand replacing the richness of language at every turn, we need stamina to sit with our experience and translate it. Since the 1970’s, the term Mindfulness has been used to describe this process. Our affinity for buzz words, trends and movements and the speed at which they emerge and subside, leaves little room in the conversation for an in depth examination of the principles behind these trends. The shiny outer packaging is mistaken for the substance and suddenly you have people asking if the kind of yoga I do is like Mindfulness? (true story)
There is no clearer or more comprehensive definition of real yoga then Patanjali’s 8 fold path which demonstrates that despite popular thinking - asana or postures is literally 1/8 of the structure of yoga and the real deal is contained in a steady practice of all the elements towards the ephemeral Samadhi or Superconsciousness. Here are my thoughts on psycho-emotional benefits of practice.
- Recognising your conditioning and noticing habits
When you bring yourself to practice every day, you will begin to notice when changes occur within you. When your practice is the constant and remains even and perpetual, you recognise that whether you find it easy or hard, enjoyable or not — that distinction lies within you. You may think of yourself as stable and unchanging; practice reveals how strongly we are affected and thrown off balance by our mind and emotions. A daily focus on any of the observances (yamas/niymas) of yoga can be as effective as physical practice in terms of shedding light on the automatic behaviours and modes of being we employ and the ways in which we self-sabotage when we become captivated by our thoughts and emotions. This stage is key in making conscious choices — discerning what reactions ‘belong’ to us and how we have inherited our responses either in rebellion to or sympathy with significant people in our lives. This organisation helps clear confusing and counterproductive ideological and emotional debris.
2. Counteracting addictive behaviours
After the awareness becomes honed, it is easier to see the places where we hold or get stuck and how we crave habit and distraction in order to avoid being with our own inner landscape. Developing compassion helps us to love the fallible human behaviours and to accept ourselves as we are. In this loving awareness and understanding it becomes much easier to halt the pointless see-saw of grasping and pushing away, of good vs bad and to become less attached to any particular outcome and instead hold steady the intention to love each moment as it arises whatever it may bring. Being super present means we are connected within ourselves — mind, body and spirit in harmony. As a consequence of this, we can become deeply, authentically connected with everyone we come into contact with and when this happens, addictive behaviours naturally begin to fall away as we settle into the warmth of genuine human connection that brings with it knowledge that nothing else is required in this moment.
3. Processing trauma
We have already mentioned that yoga is being used successfully in such instances as rehabilitation of child soldiers, PTSD, Depression & Anxiety. When humans suffer trauma (on any scale) it affects the physical body and it changes the physiology of the brain. Much research is being done now to support yogic breathing, asana, meditation and other aspects of yoga in the healing of the body and neural pathways of the brain. A simple example is that of the full exhale and how it activates the vagus nerve — when this nerve is ‘toned’ it affects the efficient function of our autonomic nervous systems, how quickly we can relax, the variability of our heart rate (which is an indicator of overall health) and multiple other bodily systems. To heal from trauma means that the original trauma no longer affects our lives — a daily practise has the power to gradually reform old damage in body and mind and free us from its limitations.
4. Regaining perspective
Possibly the most important one of all. One of the aspects of practice is making space to honour and become aware of our connection with source, our undeniable relatedness to all that is. In so doing, it is impossible to leave out the awareness that we exist on a planet, in space, in the universe. When we really stop and admire the scale of life, we regain our perspective around being here at all. Our conversations, relationships, perceived successes and failures all become rather quaint, curious and amusing rather than weighted so heavily with our human drama. When we regain perspective a sense of peace prevails.
5. Accessing more enjoyment
All of these steps lead to this one. Recognising our conditioning and how it shapes us and what we see, managing our tendencies and addictions, processing the trauma of finding ourselves essentially alone on a big planet without knowing really why and then zooming out and realising what a privilege it is to find ourselves so — all this leads to one massive, beautiful bonus which is that we are free to ENJOY IT. Having a process that limits the time spent involved in our own drama, that allows for and appreciates it but does not get attached to it or lost in it, that brings steadiness and a construct for discerning and developing the behaviours that serve our own and everyone else’s highest good and that aids remaining centred in the knowledge that this is all transient — a practice like that really leaves no alternative than for us to put our very heart, soul and spirit into being here now and maximise all the amazing potential that each day holds. A practice like that brings healing, positive transformation and a personal power that is grounded in compassion and connection. I dare say, a practice like that could be called yoga.