Urban yoga Fitness

Connecting the body and mind

Many people have used the words ‘passionate yogi’ to describe me. I quite like the phrase; yet, yesterday, when I heard it again, I found myself pausing and gazing blankly into the sky for a few seconds. The truth is I am no longer “passionate” about yoga in the way that I was.

That passion has developed into a deeper love, the kind you associate with lengthy marriages or a 30-year-old friendship. There are many moments of passion in my practice, but mainly I feel a strong, deep, abiding love that gives me that warm content feeling that hot soup does on a cold day. If you have been in a long-term relationship, you will know that the focus of the relationship changes. Where once it might have been defined by how much fun you had last Saturday night, over time it becomes based on deeper and subtler aspects like trust, loyalty and commitment.

Every once in a while I ask myself a few questions just so I can gauge if I am progressing in my yoga practice; not in the physical aspects, that is obvious, but in more subtle aspects. I wanted to share these questions with you today.

Am I more flexible?

On the physical level, I have become more flexible. Through the physical practice of yoga, we lengthen the muscles and lubricate the joints. It’s tempting to say we become more flexible, but actually we are returning to flexibility, because this is how we started life. As children, we are very flexible — think of a little baby sucking both toes and you know what I mean! But we lose this as we grow older – our muscles begin to shorten through lack of use and loss of moisture.

In order to increase flexibility, the practice of asanas requires you to put your body into some strange and, very often, uncomfortable positions. Trust me, it can be a little disturbing the first time the teacher tells you to “spread your buttocks”! So I ask myself, if I can accept being uncomfortable on the mat, can I accept it in life? Can I go to my colleague’s birthday party although I won’t know anyone there? Can I listen to an opposing view without feeling the need to assert my own? If I can say yes, then I know that not only am I becoming more flexible on the mat, I am becoming more flexible in life.

Do I fall with grace?

The physical practice of yoga has helped me create a strong connection between the body and the mind. For clumsy individuals like me who have been known to trip when no obstacle is in sight, this has saved me from much injury. I still slip, fall and trip, but because I have more awareness now, I find I am able to stop the fall or land lightly.

Life has taught me that eventually I am going to fall, trip, fail or lose my way. Experience has taught me to accept this; after all, success and failure two sides of the same coin. When I face failure, or rejection, I ask myself: “Can I fall with grace?” This could be as simple as conceding defeat in a verbal discussion or letting go when a colleague’s idea is chosen over my own. For some it could be as hard as looking for the positive when faced with a life-threatening disease. Or not wallowing in grief at the death of a loved one but instead showing support to others who are grieving.

Do I hold on?

Much of asana practice is focused on strength, flexibility and agility; an important, but often-neglected part is learning to let go. Once you are in an asana, it is very important to use only the muscles necessary to keep you there and to let go of everything else! That is the only way to move deeper. The body has a beautiful and necessary defence mechanism; if it feels that muscles are stretching too much, it will resist by contracting those muscle. So after a point, pulling and using strength in an asana will not work. You have to do the work and let go.

As we do on the mat, there is so much we hold on to in life - material possessions, relationships, ideas of ourselves, dreams, plans… Just like a baby clings to its mother’s fingers, we seem to be born to hold on. The yoga sutras teach us to practise aparigraha or letting go.

It has become second nature for me to let go when practising asanas; I simply relax every time I exhale. But I constantly am striving to let go in real life.

Do I remember to breathe?

We take breath for granted. But yoga teaches us to focus on it. In general we breathe in when we need strength (lifting and jumping) and breathe out when we need to relax. The long, deep breath triggers a relaxation response in the body, where as a short rapid breath is associated with the flight and fight response and releases adrenaline in the body. Much of our world is still inspired by adrenaline but many people are realising that this can only lead to ill health. Relaxation is important. And yoga of course gives you that.

If you notice that most emotions are associated with a fast short breathe. So I like to check in every once in a while and make sure that I am breathing deeply and slowly. I have found that a single deep breath can keep me out of a lot of trouble. A deep breath before you reply to your boss’s angry tirade could save you your job. A deep breath before you respond to your boyfriend’s irrational message could save you your relationship.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 2:57:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/fitness/urban-yoga-connecting-the-body-and-mind/article7043448.ece

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