om gam yoga

Melbourne yoga instruction by Sophie Langley

Tag: yoga class sydney

Awe and yoga

I practice yoga every day, and most days am reminded by that practice of how amazing the human body and mind are. Every now and then I come across a video of someone else’s practice, and find myself thinking: “I could never do that.”

This is one of those videos.

(I found this over at Garden Yoga; and Jo found it at yogachick.)

I think it’s interesting that my immediate response is “I could never do that”. I remember thinking the same thing about touching my toes. And about being able to step my foot all the way forward between my hands from downward facing dog. And about practicing a headstand, or a handstand. I can do all of those things now. Half the battle, I think, is getting past that “I could never…”.

So, you know, maybe one day I’ll be able to do this.

~

This is cross-posted over at my writing blog, avocado and lemon.

A Brief History of Yoga

I’ve just found this beautiful coloured flow-chart by Alison Hinks, over at Yoga Dork (you can find a PDF version on Yoga Dork’s post here). If you’ve ever wondered about the lineage of different yoga styles, see if you can find them on here. Very interesting!

Yoga for Moving House

This last fortnight I’ve been using my Sydney yoga practice a little differently. I’ve been moving house. Reluctantly. As well as taking up all my time and energy, it’s been a sad experience for me.  The move was not a voluntary one – our landlord was returning from overseas and wanted to move back into her house. This house has been one of the best houses I’ve ever lived in; my housemates have become almost like family – and it’s the longest I’ve lived in one place since I left home all those years ago.

Unfortunately, it’s also taken up so many of my resources, material and otherwise, that my yoga practice has been substantially reduced. Again. It’s been frustrating.

Looking back through some of my Sydney yoga class plans, I came across one I taught on the theme of impermanence. The series of poses I’d chosen when planning the class seemed to accurately represent the process I felt I was going through moving all my things to the new house: physically demanding, alternately concentrating on balance, strength and letting go, and requiring high levels of concentration.

Patanjali begins the Yoga Sutras with this statement:

Atha yoga nushashanam

This translates as, “Now, here is yoga as I have observed it in the natural world.” Sanskrit is not a language in which there are superfluous words. Each word in this phrase is just as important as the next, including the word “now”.

Change and impermanence are a part of life. Moving house became a big, long extended reminder of this. As much as I am looking forward to new adventures in my new house, there’s also an underlying resistance to the change and a hesitation that I’m sure will take some time to fade.

But permanence is an illusion anyway, according to yogic philosophy. Everything is in a constant state of flux, and clinging to the idea of permanence will only cause us distress. My hesitation too will change.

The Buddha said, “This existence of ours is as transient as the autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky, rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.” Buddhists argue that, because of the fragile impermanence in our lives, all we really have is right now. The “now” of Patanjali’s Sutras.

The brilliance of focusing on now is that it can both help you more fully enjoy moments of joy – make the most of them, because you cannot be sure how long they will last – and move through difficult times – they too will pass, you can focus on just getting through one moment at a time.

In a yoga class, we can practise what Buddhists call ‘mindfulness’. In any pose, we can draw our attention to any areas of tension, as well as any areas where we might feel more flexible. We can notice those parts of our body that are touching the ground, notice how the ground feels beneath our feet at that moment. If a pose is particularly difficult, I often tell my students to focus on their breath, making sure they can still breathe fully; all they need to do is get through that one breath. After that, all they need to focus on is getting through that next breath, and so on.

Of course, the same practice could apply to me, settling into my new house and moving through my sadness about the end of the old house. Over the next few weeks I’m trying to focus on unpacking just one box at a time. I’ve unpacked all the major things; the boxes that are left are me settling in, like I might slow my breath down gradually in yoga asana practice.

Yesterday I went for a walk around my new neighbourhood; on Saturdays there’s a farmers’ market just around corner from my house, I found a new strip of cafes, and some interesting streets.

The frustration of moving has given me a chance to try and take what I’ve learnt about impermanence and change on the yoga mat into my life in a new way. On my walk yesterday I also came across the type of opportunity that often presents itself with an unwelcome change: just up the road from my new house is a beautiful new Sydney yoga studio space.

Yoga and Resolutions

Sydney yoga is interesting in January: classes are busier; summer deals at various yoga schools allow students to try out classes they might not otherwise or attend more classes than they usually would; yoga rooms are steamy with the sticky Sydney summer weather and extra bodies. There’s a sense of expectation in many Sydney yoga classes – and no doubt in other classes that involve moving your body around.

The expectation, perhaps, is that this year will be the one; it will be the year in which people will get fit and healthy, be kinder, and take more care of themselves and the world around them.

At the breaking of the new year, many of us make resolutions about the areas of our lives we’d like to improve. I’ve never been big on new year’s resolutions. But this year, in trying to decide between the two or three options I had for celebrating the beginning of 2011, I found myself thinking about what this ‘New Year’ business is really about.

Putting all the celebrations and fireworks aside, marking the new year is about letting go of things that have passed, and looking forward to things that might be. In the northern hemisphere, New Year’s Eve occurs at around the same time as the Winter Solstice. This is a time where people in some cultures perform rituals to figuratively rid themselves of the things they no longer want in their lives, so that there is space for the things that they do want.

Of course, we could do this any day of the year, but there’s something nice about collectively moving on, and that process coinciding with the beginning of a new year.

Heading back to work, school and normal life after the holiday period, however, it can be difficult to integrate our plans, be they humble or grand. Regular life for many of us is busy – I know for myself that rushing between the various yoga classes I teach each week, the writing projects I’m working on, and keeping up with the administration required to run a small business, the end of each week comes around quickly, and usually with far too many things left on my To Do list.

We need savasana after a yoga class to allow the benefits of the practice to be fully integrated into our minds and bodies. For this reason, the final relaxation is perhaps the most important part of the class – even though it might seem like you’re just lying there. Similarly, if we want to make changes in our lives, we need to allow ourselves some stillness in which the desire for change can become motivation to move towards actually making that change.

“Perhaps the simplest and most profound practice for deactivating old patterns,” say Mary and Rick NurrieStearns – a pyschotherapist and yoga teacher, and meditation teacher respectively, “is taking the time to be still and quiet. Sitting down and doing nothing gives you a chance to unwind and let your mind relax. You literally stop moving long enough to get your bearings, to see where you are and what’s going on.”

At this time of year especially then, it’s important we allow ourselves to take some quiet time if there are changes we’d like to see in our lives. A slow walk through the local park has always helped me, as has sitting quietly with a cup of tea for ten minutes.

The NurrieStearns suggest sitting quietly and noticing the small space between your breaths. Notice the pause, however brief, before and after your exhale. Similarly, they say, you might sit and notice the gap between your thoughts. Some days the gap between your breaths and thoughts will be very brief, perhaps almost imperceptible. Other days you might notice a longer pause.

Of course, if you’ve been meaning to for a while, now might be a good time to take advantage of one of the many deals that Sydney yoga schools are offering – and allow yourself to really enjoy the stillness of the final relaxation.