Yoga is for Everyone
In part I we explored some basic ideas about Yoga, where it came from and what it’s all about. But in the modern world, especially with our level of consumption of popular media, it’s all too easy to get a totally warped perception about Yoga. Specialist magazines and social media bombard us with beautiful bodies in pretzel poses and super-shredded athletes doing gravity-defying inversions. Class titles and the publicity efforts of many Yoga instructors imply that Yoga is only for elite gymnasts, athletes and acrobats, far beyond the reach of ordinary people.
I totally disagree. Yoga should be accessible to everyone.
Krishnamacharya’s key principle in Yoga is Viniyoga, which is the adaptation of Yoga practices to meet the needs of the individual. He believed that Yoga could be adapted to the needs of anyone, so long as we start from a place of being flexible in altering the practices to suit the individual’s unique personal needs. If any approach tries to bend students to fit a “one-size-fits-all” methodology, they have failed to grasp the point of Yoga right away. Following Krishnamacharya’s other principles of teaching, we alter the practices to bring the right level of challenge in the right way for that person.
For those Yoga teachers now spitting the dummy, none of this means you cannot practice your super-bendy super-difficult physical practice that you’re so fond of. It doesn’t even mean that you can’t teach it. It means that you need to consider every time you practice or teach it if it is appropriate to do at that time for that student in the condition they are in and for their real life needs at that moment. If it’s not, then it isn’t Yoga.
We need to be teaching real Yoga for real people in the real world, and that involves meeting their needs instead of offering up an arbitrary series of postures that cannot possibly work for everyone. Every person out there who is still breathing can, with intention and commitment, do a regular Yoga practice and change their life. Can you help them?
One Step at a Time
We all want big changes and we want them now. In my own experience, if you gain something quickly you’ll almost certainly lose it just as quickly. If what we really want is a more permanent change in our life situation, we need to settle in to work on it over the long term. Just as the sea gradually wears down massive stone cliffs, with the right practice over time we can erode our not-so-helpful habits.
Vinyasa Krama means to apply specific movements in stages. In other words, we need to start right where we are, with what we are capable of doing, and gradually progress towards our goals, one step after another. Our progress should always be challenging, but it’s important not to overstep. Often it’s when we’re determined to make that big leap forward that we create problems such as injuries, so it’s important to be intelligent in how we approach our practice.
Vinyasa Krama applies not only to how we approach each individual technique, but also to the way that we sequence a number of techniques to create a practice, and how we evolve a student’s practice towards their goal over time. There are ups and downs for sure, but if we pay attention to what is going on, our direction will always lead us towards our intended goal.
Yoga starts in the Body
The aim of Yoga has never been the achievement of contorted body postures or complicated breath work just for the sake of it. The Yoga Sutras are clear that the practices of Yoga are about shifting the habits of your mind. This means moving away from our usual mode of analysing and judging everything, and into a direct and more intuitive experience of reality.
The best way to get out of your head is to get into the body. This is the practice of Embodied Awareness. This is the development of an intimate relationship between your body, your breath, your mind and beyond. In my experience, the development of Embodied Awareness is the most significant factor in moving towards total (mental-emotional) freedom.
It’s a very simple idea. You just take your awareness to what is happening in your body as you do your given Yoga practices, focusing all of your attention on the actual sensations that arise. But simple doesn’t mean easy, and it takes time and effort to develop the skill of staying embodied throughout your practice. Yet when you do, you will notice that your practice changes, and becomes a powerful force for change in your life.
Learning to Relate
Krishnamacharya was clear that Yoga is all about relationship. As your practice develops you will see more clearly the relationship between your body, your breath, and the various layers of your mind. You will begin to understand your authentic self, and how you can express in relationship with the rest of the world.
Yoga is a path of self-empowerment, where you must work with commitment and total personal responsibility. At times we may need the help of others, but authentic Yoga never aims to make you dependent. Yoga will show you the ways to step up and claim your own power, to live from a steady place of inner confidence and happiness.
As I said at the beginning, we usually start practicing Yoga in order to find some a greater level of physical health, or perhaps some mental-emotional healing. But that is really just the tip of the iceberg as far as the bigger picture of Yoga is concerned. In other words, there’s more!
The “more” comes when we start to get really still, in meditation practice. It takes a bit of time to settle the body and breath, but don’t waste too much time on that. Without meditation, your perspectives on life may never change, and it’s there that Yoga has the ability to take you Beyond.
Beyond who you think you are, Beyond what you think you know, and eventually Beyond the Beyond.