photo by Melinda Parrish
Yoga isn’t about pushing, forcing, exerting, or trying to achieve the posture.
In fact, these are the very things that get in the way of you and your practice. A good instructor will tell you that monitoring your breathing is the way to tell if you’re pushing too hard. If your breath is strained, forced, or constricted, you’re not realizing the full benefits of your practice. Yoga is about allowing your body to go as far as it can on a given day, as a way to show your body love through movement.
I’ve been sitting with this idea all week long and it’s been a little challenging. You see, the idea of connection came to me when I sat at San Dominican University last weekend, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, to pay tribute to a special young man I had only just begun to know.
When it comes to our bodies, we as women tend to place a great deal of pressure on ourselves to achieve certain results. We deprive ourselves and push ourselves in order to whittle down, tighten up, drop dress sizes, and increase our level of attractiveness. We exalt uber-thin (sometimes, dangerously thin) bodies through images of “thinspiration.” We put these images out on social media and tell the world, “This is what I’m striving for.”
Every day I teach and practice is a new day. As I work in my heart and body simultaneously, I begin to see how interconnected the two are. My body informs my feelings, and my feelings inform my body.
Everyone has a story about why they took their first yoga class and why they keep coming back. Most involve a desire to slow down, release tension, or recover from an injury. Mine is no different.
I took my first step onto the mat to learn how to let go of tension before it turned into an ulcer, as my lifestyle at that time was very fast-paced and stressful. Little did I know that in taking my first step on the mat, I would not only learn how to tune into my breath and strengthen my body, I would learn that I had the power to transform my life by gaining a clearer understanding of the mind-body connection.
Newsflash: Yoga teachers are just as damaged, depraved, sordid, angry, insecure and proud as everyone else. Perhaps the only difference is that some yoga teachers are more aware of their flaws than others. But that isn’t a given; plenty are oblivious to them.
People are people. I’m not excusing abhorrant behaviour; I’m merely observing the fact that we are more similar than we might like to think. We have feelings. We get hurt. Exploited. Taken advantage of. Pissed off. Irritated. Fed up. Lost. Angry. Furious, even. Exhausted. Whiny. Grumpy. There’s a whole range of drama going on within all of us in the wrestle of the upward and downward spirals.
What can make all the difference, though, is connecting the inner to the outer and finding balance between them.
Sun Salutations are a perfect ritual with which to greet the day, using the rhythm of your heart and the song of your breath to conduct the body into being awake. The beauty of the salutations is that they require the entire physical body to be utilized. From the neutrality of mountain pose, to the inward turning of the deep standing forward bends, to the enlivening openness of the back bending, upward facing dog and the grounding, invigorating downward facing dog, the salutations draw our minds into the temple of the body.
I love dark chocolate. Its perfect mix of bitter and sweet scratches an itch down deep in my soul.
And yet, the past two times I’ve consumed it (once in the form of squares from an actual bar and once in the form of hot cocoa made with the highest quality cocoa powder I could find), it has upset my stomach.
By The FIRM Master Instructor Emily Welsh
You can work out every day or even hours a day and get little benefit if you are not fully engaged in the process. I have found that if I’m not paying attention to what I am doing when I work out, I move mindlessly through each set of exercises, not getting the best benefit from each repetition. I call this being on “auto-pilot.”