Spring is this gorgeous time of renewal. Of rebirth. And for me, this year is especially true. So many areas of my life are changing at the moment. From plans from a new…Read More
Many people have asked me why I practice Ashtanga yoga. Whilst I have deep respect for all styles of yoga (Hatha yoga in particular) Ashtanga has taught me many life changing lessons and I want to share three of those lessons with you today.
Lesson 1: Discipline is key
In Ashtanga, we practice the same sequence six mornings a week until given permission (traditionally) from a qualified instructor to progress to the next series. There are six series in Ashtanga yoga and each series is carefully designed to develop the right amount of balance, strength and flexibility within your body that will prepare you for a progression to the next. With this understanding of the sequences, I fully respect that I need to maintain a consistent practice in order to progress. The discipline is in the commitment to the physical practice regardless of how tired, bored or sore I am; the ritual of getting up every morning at 3.30am (I need to do this as I am teaching at 6.00am) and; most importantly, the discipline of my mind to maintain the (at times monotonous) unchanging sequence.
Lesson 2: My practice has the power to develop deep self-awareness
I continually working on the same sequence I have come to notice some deeper, subtler changes in both my body and mind. I have noticed how little niggles shift daily, how my balance is effected by my thoughts, how my breath strengthens and relieves pain in my back. Before practicing yoga, and with a very irregular practice years ago, these subtleties remained hidden. And whilst I’m mindful I have barely scratched the surface in terms of deepening my self-awareness, I do feel that I’m now heading in the right direction!
Lesson 3: Just the slightest shift in perfection will determine my day
Let’s get something clear here – I am not overjoyed when my alarm goes off at 3.30am. I’m no different to anyone else when it comes to the dread of pulling myself from my cozy bed and onto my cold mat in the living room. But what I have learned over the years is my mind will dictate my practice every morning. Without a structured practice, I would often find myself lying on my mat not doing a whole lot. Whilst I may feel tired, if I tell myself I will have a strong practice that day, then I shall. If I give in to lazy thoughts, then that is exactly how I will feel on my mat. And because Ashtanga is repetitive, I always know the difference between a focused and intentional practice, and a lazy, ‘go-through-the-motions’ practice.
How I choose to think in the morning – strong and focused or lazy and weak is exactly what I bring into the rest of my day. Whilst I’m only human and I too give into the lazy thinking, I’ve definitely recognized the power of my mind to change the direction of my practice, and my entire day, with just the slightest shift in perception.
So there you have it – three key lessons the practice of Ashtanga yoga has taught me. I lead Ashtanga classes five mornings a week at the studio to help others who are also committed to a regular practice and I welcome anyone who is keen to try. Whilst it may seem a little intimidating at first, given time, it could totally transform your life in the same way it has mine.
Sending warm hugs,
Have you ever thought or said, “I don’t know how to meditate? I can’t meditate? I can’t sit still for long periods at a time?”
The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to meditate. For some, it could involve walking through a park near to their home, for others it could mean sitting in a quite place in their garden with eyes closed and focused on their breath.
The way we meditate is completely unique to each of us. This also includes what we experience during the meditation. There is no Garden of Eden on the other side you’re meant to see. This isn’t how it works. For me, when I’m in a deep state of meditation, my thoughts are very quite and my focus is on me and me alone. But this may only last for a moment or two before my monkey mind starts up again. These are the times when I gently remind myself to return to focusing on my breath and attempt to maintain the stillness. Some days I can be totally focused and aware, whilst other days I can be all over the place. This is absolutely normal and to be expected. If you find there is a day where you are really struggling to keep the focus, rather than tell yourself messages like, “I can’t meditate,” take some time to observe what is going on for you during this period of your life. To understand the events/experiences/stressors that could be distracting you. For example, you may be worried about a project at work, had a fight with your partner the night before, slept poorly… These daily experiences all impact upon our physical and emotional states, and therefore our ability to concentrate.
Through experience, I’ve found that learning to sit still is crucial to reaching the next level of meditation. How many times have you tried sitting cross legged on the floor and found that after a couple of minutes the back or knees get sore, then suddenly your attention is on the pain rather than your breath? Believe me, I know what this is like. I’ve been through this many times!
Unfortunately, in the west especially, we tend to sit at desks all day every day. At home we eat dinner at the dining room table. We sit on couches to watch movies. This way of sitting causes our hips to close and weakens our spine, making it very uncomfortable and often painful when we try to sit on harder surfaces.
The key is to practice sitting cross-legged on hard surfaces and gradually increase your tolerance. For example, sit on the floor while working on your laptop, reading a book or eating dinner. Once you learn how to sit correctly, your ability to meditate and remain focused will become so much easier.
Rather than trying to force meditation, it will just naturally happen.
Your meditation will extend from 5 minutes to 10, to 20, to an hour or more if you so choose. Whilst I would like to say there is an easy fix for this – there really isn’t. But your determination to strengthen the spine, open the hips and improve your overall body awareness will encourage you to keep practicing this technique. What I can promise – with regular practice, you will quickly reach a stage where sitting correctly without support becomes effortless. From here, not only will your meditation will be amazing but also your body will become so much stronger and healthier for having learned this. So simple but so powerful.
As a final word, use your meditation as an opportunity to deepen your self-awareness. Should you lose your focus, gently allow yourself to return to the breath, repeatedly if necessary. Because remember, there is no right or wrong way to do this. And if you find sitting a real challenge, gradually increase the duration of the meditation. Quickly it will become your favourite part of the day.
I would love to hear about your experiences with meditation. What do you feel is your biggest challenge with meditation? Be sure to comment below.
Sending much love to you all.
I find the whole concept of letting go of ego a really interesting one. Part of the yoga practice is to remove ego. Whilst there are many reasons for doing so, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the role ego has to play in our personal practice and how it could be considered responsible for the western trendy approach to yoga.
For example, I’ve had a number of students seek out yoga for the purpose of weight loss. They want to sweat. To feel like they’ve done a work out. In my opinion, it’s such attitudes that have resulted in the likes of power yoga and hot yoga styles evolving. They address common problems like weight concerns and help people to physically improve their body shape (notice, I’m talking external appearances only). This is ego working right here.
Then there are those practitioners who want to do strong vinyasas or advanced asanas, like Mayurasana (peacock). Whilst there is nothing wrong with wanting to advance in your practice by performing more challenging asanas, I feel it’s important we stop and think about why we want to do these asanas. Why do we want to be inverted in a handstand (Ardho mukha vrksasana) or fold our body in half via a back bend (Ardha chakrasana).
I can’t answer these questions for others, but I can for myself. In my case, I would be lying if I said my ego had no influence on my practice. For one, I’m human. And for two, I know my ego is in part responsible for spurring me on to go a little deeper, or higher, or harder. As I was one of those people that was medically advised by experts that I would never physically be strong, or have much mobility in my body (due to Scoliosis), I became even more determined to challenge my body. To hell with the idea of allowing someone elses opinion (because that’s all it is at the end of the day, an opinion) dictate how I’m going to feel in my body! So I continue to learn, experiment, fall, try again….
But whilst there is very much ego involved (which is a constant challenge to try and minimize), I feel it is so important to stop and ask ourselves why we are doing a particular asana, outside of the ego? What are the physical and non-physical parts of the body that are being activated? What does the asana lead to? How does compromising the asana to hold a big toe rather than pull back a little and work from a less advanced position help us to progress?
Today, for example, I was practicing Pincha Mayurasana, which is quite an advanced asana – but my shoulders keep collapsing, limiting the mobility of my spine to bring me to the next level. Because of this, my teacher has now told me to return to working with a wall support to build up the strength in my shoulders before taking myself back to the full asana. The egoist part of me thinks this makes me look weak or incapable. But the reality is, it is only by being humble in the practice that I can actually excel and achieve those new, powerful asanas. I need to come back to basics.
This is why I’m so passionate about Hatha yoga. It brings the beautiful balance between strength and flexibility, which carefully and strategically prepares people to take their practice to the next level very quickly. Within just a few weeks of consistent work, people notice their bodies totally transform – from stiff, rigid and painful to light, flexible and strong.
So with that said, have a think about these few questions; “Why am I practicing particular asanas? Why do I want to do only the more challenging asanas? What role is my ego playing in my practice?
“Am I in the asana or just doing the asana?” This will make a huge difference to your approach. Recognise the role of the ego, be aware of it and do not allow it to control your regular practice. It will never take you where you want to go.
Be sure to share your thoughts and experiences. I would love to hear from you.
Much love + gratitude,