Since I refer to yoga as “a workout and a work-in”, I figured it might be fun to let you know what I mean by that. 🙂
First, let’s cover the workout part, since that’s pretty straightforward. I’d say because of my own personal preference, the practices I design and teach tend to be more on the physically intense side. That said, I also try to be diligent about giving options and modifications for poses to make my classes are accessible to all levels. Additionally, recognizing I’m not 100% successful, I also try to structure the classes in such a way that there are various levels to various poses, which will ratchet up or down the intensity of said pose for a yogi based on her/his personal preferences and/or ability.
A good example of this is Extended Side Angle, or Utthita Parsvakonasana. There are SO MANY options in this pose. With your feet set up for Warrior 2, you can start by bringing your front elbow to thigh and back hand to hip, while spinning your heart open to the side and lengthening the crown of your head toward the front of your mat. One can stay there, or while keeping the opening and lengthening, you can extend your back hand straight up, while gazing down, to the side, or up. From here you can extend the Side Angle by reaching your top arm toward the front of your mat as far as you can, while engaging your back leg. This is perfect, or you could move your bottom hand down to a block or the mat. You go wherever you can maintain an open heart. Finally, you can stay there or move toward a half or full bind as pictured below (Bound Side Angle).
Now, for the work-in part of practicing yoga: Practicing yoga is like doing your own therapy session … while sweating and getting stronger and more flexible physically! 🙂 By using your breath to calm and quiet your mind, I invite practitioners to take an inner journey. As I practice and teach it, one of the goals of yoga is to become better acquainted with your self. Using your breath and mindful movement to clear your mind of your to do lists, future worries, and past cares both allows you to experience greater peace and to take a tour of your own inner landscape.
The first step in personal transformation is self-awareness. And I think one of the beautiful gifts of yoga is the mindful breath and movement helps us to get in tune with our own thoughts, emotions, bodies, beliefs, and experiences. Awareness is power, because once you’re aware you can leave that character trait alone because it’s great, tweak it because it needs a tune-up, or change it to something else because you don’t want to be _________.
In my mind, the second amazing, powerful aspect of yoga when it comes to transformation is practice. In yoga we don’t “perfect” poses, attitudes, and life, we PRACTICE them. Just like you usually practice Downward-Facing Dog and sometimes it’s “better” than others, you can also choose to practice being more kind or caring or forgiving or peaceful or calm or courageous or loving or ______ on your mat AND throughout your day. Obviously I can’t “force” anyone to take this inner-journey, and some days just showing up to move and breath is the best thing for a person, but I do always invite yogis to some specific inner journey and transformative practice that day.
To land this blog let me close with an example from my own yoga practice. One thing I struggle with is judgment, which is closely (if not inseparably) related to competition. For instance, I greatly struggled with thinking it was okay for my second wife to divorce me as I was convinced we could totally work out great. I compared us to other couples and saw all the ways we were “better”, yet we were divorcing while they stayed together. Relatedly, I’m fairly competitive and want to “improve” at yoga and life EVERY DAY. With all this in mind, something I regularly practice is nonjudgment and acceptance. I try and make a habit of accepting myself where I’m at THAT day on my mat, which might be “worse” than the day before, but that is GREAT because I’m human. And practicing this grace with myself, in turn, helps transforms me into a person who’s less judgmental and kinder and more caring toward others off my mat.
All this while sweating my guts out on my mat … like I say: Yoga is a workout and work-in. 🙂
Grace and peace to you,