What artists, musicians and yoga practitioners have in common

 
 

As a little girl, I tried many things – drama, singing, acting… but none of these activities stuck. They didn’t resonate. Upon reflection, I know a primary reason for not furthering my singing career (I loved singing) was due to feeling disconnected from my teachers. As a somewhat insecure child who had big dreams but lacked the confidence to chase them, I needed a teacher who was nurturing, understanding and encouraging. Not to fall to the back of the class and feel like a number in the room.

Being the baby of eight children meant funds were tight, so unfortunately access for private tuition was not available to me. This meant I needed to train with whoever was available in the average classes. Whilst many of these classes were still excellent and I had some lovely teachers over the years, I never had the opportunity to really step up my learning. I needed to stick with the course curriculum.

Yoga was another area of my life where I felt I wasn’t progressing the way I would like to. Whilst I enjoyed my regular group classes for years, there was something missing. The teacher could only offer so much attention to me. I needed a space where I could work on my practice and have the support of my teacher to improve and grow.

You see – to develop a skill, takes patience, practice and commitment. I began to realise that yoga was no different to any other activity out there. For example, when you look at the best athletes, artists, musicians and yes, yoga practitioners in the world, there is one thing they all have in common. A teacher. An experienced practitioner who can guide the student along a path that encourages ongoing growth and development. 

So when we translate this concept into that of a yoga practitioner, I often have people come to me and ask why they’re not progressing with their practice. Why the pain is still there, why the body remains rigid, why the stress levels remain high and (despite how egoistic this may sound), why they can’t perform the more advanced asanas after years of trying.

There are two very key reasons to explain the above:

1)    A lack of consistency. More often than not people expect a weekly practice is sufficient. Whilst any practice is better than no practice, the truth is, the best results come from a consistent, regular practice. No Olympian has ever won a gold medal through sporadic practice.

So what does this look like in terms of days to practice yoga? 6 days a week, minimum 30 minutes a day. For the serious ones, and I don’t mean Olympians, just those who seek strong change, this is where it begins. 

2)    A lack of guidance. How many professional athletes, musicians, singers and so on have reached world record standards without the support of a teacher? Whilst I’m aware there are odd cases, generally speaking, everyone has a coach of some sort, a mentor if you will. These are the people who help to set goals, inspire the practitioner/student to push a little harder even when they (the student) feel like there is nothing more to give, who encourage the student to get up and try again every time he/she falls.

You see, there is nothing more powerful than the relationship between a teacher and student. The bond they share is unbreakable. The trust and belief they have for one another is so intimate and profoundly important that nothing could come between them. It is in this space, in this place of trust, that they will both excel. The teacher will be motivated and inspired to keep raising the bar whilst the student will continue to aim for it.

Whilst I appreciate not all people can have the opportunity to build this type of relationship via private tuition, in the yoga world, there is one very powerful way the same bond and learning can be achieved without the expense of such classes – and this is through a practice known as Mysore Style yoga. A traditional way of learning yoga, it is where practitioners learn the discipline of self-practice whilst having the support of their teacher to observe and progress the student as he/she is deemed ready. Since returning to Mysore and practicing in this way, it’s reminded me of how powerful this practice is. Through kind but also strict instruction, I’ve been reminded of areas where I have become lazy and forced to work harder. I’vealso been challenged to take my practice to the next level as I demonstrate the strength and body/mind awareness to do so. From here I now have more tools to implement into my regular practice back home before returning again next year.

I’m therefore excited and passionate about sharing Mysore Style yoga with my students, as I genuinely believe it is the best form of learning. That it is through this approach to yoga that practitioners can see the quickest results re freeing themselves of ailments and stress whilst also building strength and flexibility in their body and mind. It is the consistent and guided practice that allows the space for this growth to occur. And then what’s on the other side of this? Health. A feeling of connection with ourselves and others. Reduced stress… Life! People can start focusing on living again rather than healing. Why? Because the practice will make it so.

So if ever you’re feeling stagnant in your practice (whatever your practice could be- art, music, yoga…) look for opportunities to learn from others. Who can you seek out as a mentor, a teacher that you believe could take you to the next level? Take the time to find this person and invest in this training – because at the end of the day, this will be your biggest investment.

Sending huge hugs and love,

Jessica xx

Live, love and breathe deeply

We were warned the tempo would increase, but bloody hell! The sweat was pouring off everyone in the class tonight. We all looked as though we had jumped in a swimming pool and then decided to do yoga. The shala becomes like a sauna in these conditions, and Barath wont open the windows to let cool air in as this can disrupt our prana. My understanding of this is - the more advanced our practice becomes, the more sensitive our bodies become to external forces which can lead to injury or illness. Therefore, as our bodies have naturally warmed in the room through movement, our bodies have adjusted to the temperature and can comfortably continue working in those conditions. The same goes for Savasana (dead man pose). Should the windows be opened during this resting time, then it can shock our bodies and again lead to illness. Its fascinating learning the science behind the practice.

Of course you have those students who can’t help themselves but complain (who I try my very best not to be affected by) but i just figure - Bharath is the teacher, the master, so there is a reason for everything he does. Trust the process. He can see we are slipping off our own elbows or from under our own feet, but this is all part of the process I guess.

For me, because I was literally doing exactly that (slipping off my own elbows) it required I be so much more focused in the posture to maintain it. Kakasana was a great example of this for me tonight. Not only is this already a challenging posture for me, I now needed to work out how to hold it with absolutely no grip from my skin to hold me in place. I may as well have been  covered in oil. But - I did it, and held it for probably my longest time ever. So, at the end of the day my technique and focus must be improving. Method in the madness!

Prior to class, against my better judgement as usual, I decided to eat about five of these instant heart attack biscuits I love. I know they are bad for me. I know my focus in class is significantly reduced when I eat them (or any other crap for that matter). I know I will then need to spend the rest of the afternoon trying to maintain an ounce of dignity… But, of course I had to go ahead and eat them. I regret it every time. The lesson to self here is - listen to your body. It will tell you what it likes and what it struggles with. The act on it (or not act in my case).

Chatting with a friend at lunch, we were talking about obesity and health problems due to poor eating habits (which we all have. I’m a sucker for lollies). I feel a huge part of this problem is people are no longer in tune with their bodies. They’re not listening to what it’s telling them. Prior to meeting Owen, I too was one of those people. I ate a packet of chocolate biscuits every night before bed, lived on ready made meals, drank far too much alcohol, smoked - and I never noticed how unwell my body was. Owen use to tell me he would feel almost a burning sensation in his throat when he had too much sugar. I had no idea what he was talking about. I could have inhaled 5 blocks of chocolate and not understood this feeling he claims to get after about 3 pieces. But now, I fully understand what this meant (among other internal sensations). I have found being here, in Mysore, and so involved in my practice has also helped me to dig a little deeper. I realise not everyone can come to Mysore and have this type of experience, but through a willingness to listen to and respect your own body, combined with regular practice, we can all achieve this greater insight into ourselves. Just a thought anyway.

Earlier this morning I watched a Mysore Style class. Here, the students work at their own pace with the more advanced students at the front of the class and the newer students at the back. Myself and two others in my course sat at the back of the shala watching as everyone practiced in front of us. Personally, this style doesn’t appeal to me. I much prefer the led classes. As I tend to be someone whose mind runs at a million miles an hour, it’s nice to be told what to do and not have to think through my own routine. My mind needs a rest at times.

Mysore Style does, however, force people to become more disciplined in their self practice, which is a great thing, so I absolutely see the value in it. I’m just not keen to practice this way for myself. Something I was excited to realise today however, through this observation, is how you can learn from your students. By watching how people move, noticing their individual achievements and struggles, the emotions which arise while practicing - I realised I am not the only one in any class who is struggling with my own body, or beautifully flowing with it. That everyone is walking their own journey, and that journey needs to be respected and appreciated. I am excited for the path I am paving for myself - that I will be able to share this journey with my future students. Watching how Bharath interacted with the students, and knowing one day I too will be doing the same, gave me such joy.

On a final note, I was chatting with Owen today about the importance of making choices for ourselves which bring joy to us. That make us think and smile. It saddens me to think of all the people who dreamed of a better life but never dared take that one step (which is all it takes) to pursue it. I am a bit of a risk taker - yes. (I have a property portfolio, for example, and am in significant debt to own these properties and yet I threw in the career and am currently jobless in India). But what I know, is that I need to make sure I am living my life how I want and trust everything will work out. What an awful moment it will be if I were to wake up one day and realise my life has been nothing of what I ever hoped for. We only get this chance once, so the price of not living it how I choose is far higher than any money I could lose etc. So i think it’s important people follow their hearts and live how they want to live. Life is so short and we all have a timer which none of us can stop. So if one wants something, plan for it now and take action as tomorrow may not be here.

Of course, we all need to make sacrifices in order to achieve certain things (I for one have had to leave everyone I love, step outside of my comfort zone and travel to India alone for three months to pursue yoga - as you well know) but if the reward is far greater, then the sacrifice will never be considered a burden on your life. It’s life giving rather than life taking.

Now, I’m not trying to be a life expert by any means. But I just hope my beliefs may resonate with some and encourage them to take a chance. To live, love and breathe deeply while we still can.

Ok - I’m going on now. You get the point.

So, it’s off to bed for me now. After a shocking night sleep last night, I need to make sure I get a better one tonight.

Namaste xx


Some things I appreciated today…

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