‘Where there is breath, there is Yoga’ – T. Krishnamacarya
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Yoga is accessible to everyone. Yoga works with the whole person – body, breath, mind and the deeper, more intuitive aspects of our makeup.
I am fascinated by the possibilities which yoga offers in the changing times we are living through. Yoga is about the dance between the unchanging, essential aspect of ourselves and our evolution as human beings. It is meditation in action. As we evolve, so our practice will need to change with us – it’s an exciting time to be working with yoga.
There are many different aspects to yoga, but it is essentially an ancient teaching for living fully in the present moment. This is something we all know, inherently. It’s just a matter of finding the space to allow us to feel it. The practice and techniques of yoga are the means to find this space – like opening a window inside.
The practice on the mat is a laboratory for exploration and experimentation. We use the ‘raw material’ of our makeup as human beings – body breath and mind – in different ways. After a satisfying yoga practice there is space to breathe freely, to be exactly where we are, in this moment. Peter Hersnack called this ‘uncomplicated wholeness’.
‘The practice of yoga only requires us to act, and to be attentive to our actions’
Many people come to yoga for strength, flexibility and relaxation, and yoga can provide all these, both on the obvious physical level, and in terms of energy and our outlook on life.
Yoga is also about simplifying: about letting go of or clearing out what we no longer need, so that we have a clearer sense of who we are and where we’re going. We can use the conventional yoga postures, adapted in many different ways, to get a new perspective, and literally a new “feeling” about ourselves: we can feel more alive, and open to new possibilities.
Conscious awareness of the breath is at the centre of the practice. The breath connects us with our vitality, so we can use our yoga practice to soothe us if we’re agitated, or stimulate us if we’re feeling sluggish. Practising the postures with a conscious awareness of breath can help to strengthen us, ground us, and open up more space and flexibility on many levels – physical, energetic and emotional. The breath is what animates us, breathes life into us. Working with it consciously we feel more connected to who we are in all aspects of our being; body, breath and mind.
My training was based on the teaching of TKV Deskichar, who in turn learned from his father, T. Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya could be seen as the ‘father’ of modern yoga, as he taught most of the key teachers whose work is followed all over the world today. The hallmark of this approach is to adapt the tools and practice of yoga to the individual. Within a group class, we take care to ensure that each person is working in an appropriate way for them. We can adapt the postures to suit specific needs – for people with stiff shoulders or knees, or dodgy backs, there is always a safe way of finding the essence of a posture.
Adapting the practice to suit the individual allows for a deepening of experience. Whether strong or gentle physically, it is the deepening of experience that is important, and this can be accessed by everyone. The practice has a meditative feel, as the awareness is drawn to our sense of who we are, here and now, and how we can open to change.
In the spirit of yoga as an evolving practice and a way of life, I look to the traditional yoga texts, especially the Yoga Sūtra of Patanjali, but also the Bhagavad Gītā and Upanishads, as a guide, and this is also a part of what I was taught. I love these texts, but I’m working with them in a spirit of open enquiry, and in conjunction with my experiences in my own practice, so that their timeless ideas can give space for changes and growth in my teaching and my life. These teachings can tell us a lot about who we are and what makes us ‘tick’ here and now. Above all, yoga is a living practice, and a way of life!
Body: We work with many familiar yoga postures (āsana) adapting them to suit the context of the practice. Putting our bodies into different ‘shapes’ changes our perspective, so we are able to release unhelpful habit-patterns. As this happens, physical tension is naturally released. It is feeling the essential quality of the posture, not the external physical form, that is important.
Breath: Breath is what makes us living beings. According to yoga, the life-force, prāṇa, is carried by the breath. In āsana we work towards a free ‘dance’ of body and breath in the postures, which brings a sense of spaciousness and overall wellbeing. We also practice seated breathing, prāṇāyāma, which requires more refined, open focus, and helps to settle mental ‘chatter’.
Sound: It can be challenging to use your voice if you’re not used to it, and I only use sound or chant in general classes where I feel it’s appropriate. Bringing simple vocal sounds into a practice is a powerful way of mobilising energy. Using sound in a yoga practice is like adding spice to a dish in cooking: often, less is more. The sounding is like a heightened vibration of the breath – like adding colour to a black and white film. Sound is as much about listening as doing. If you prefer not to make sounds, listening will contribute your presence.
Mind: It is the nature of the mind to be active, and we need appropriate mental activity just to perform the simplest actions. As human beings, our thinking mind has a habit of interfering with simply ‘knowing’. The capacity for discernment and increasing mental clarity which comes from practising postures, breathwork or seated meditative practice enables us to act from that place of knowing. That is yoga in action.
The relationships we explore between body, breath and mind through the practice of yoga are spaces of mediation. The feeling of aliveness that can open up in every cell of the body is what Peter Hersnack called ‘the living breath’.
‘To meditate, is to get out of our own way,
so that LIFE can be at home, at home in us and in the world.’