Give Up What you Must 26th of March, 2017
Our whole lives we are involved in a process of acquisition. We acquire knowledge, skills, relationships, belongings and so on. This process sees us grow more and more committed to acquisition. I have moved house four times in the last 20-odd years and there are things that I moved the first time that I still have with me that I doubt I would have used even once in the intervening years. Perhaps I have some sentimental connection to the item. Perhaps I think it will “come in handy one day” or perhaps I just do not understand when an item is not part of who I currently am.
I hung on to old cricket and rugby gear long after I stopped playing – decades, in fact, so far as cricket was concerned. I still have not one but two sets of golf clubs even though it is seven years since I last played a round of golf.
In my wardrobe there are some rather dated clothes (were it not for some of these I would have nothing to wear other than yoga shorts and t-shirts) and when I look at them I think to myself that I will never wear them again. And yet they hang there still. Why keep them?
It is not just the tangible acquisitions to which we cling. The notions we hold about ourselves are acquisitions that are intangible yet form very real impressions upon us. A dismissive word from someone influential upon us can cause us to carry a sense of unworthiness, stupidity or unattractiveness for years. The idea sowed in our highly impressionable minds and emotions that we are unloved or a disappointment can shape our sense of self-worth and our approach to social, work and recreational activities for the future.
As well as the dated and worn out sporting equipment and clothing of past years, what else am I carrying round with me? I carry a fear of failure. My elder brother is better than me at many things. He is smarter and a better runner. Two things prized in my family when I was young were academic achievement and participation in running. I have memories of feeling inadequate so far as my academic achievements were concerned because they were not the same standard as my brother’s. I remember sensing a gulf between my running and my brother’s (not helped by us running in the same junior boys harrier races even though he was two-and-a-half years older than me) to the point where in an inter-school race I took myself out rather than compete my best and not win.
I hasten to add that my family were supportive of me but somewhere I got the impression that if I were not on a par with my brother then I was not living up to expectations. Being afraid of failing and disappointing has been a motivating force at times but has been a burden and has contributed to a lack of self-worth too. Trying to meet the imagined expectations of others is a cruel standard. Those imagined expectations will always be too great. Each failure in trying to meet unrealistic (and, in truth, non-existent expectations) contributes to a sense not just of having failed but of being a failure. That is a short jump to make in a person’s mind: I failed so I am a failure; I was not loved by that person so I am unlovable; I did not understand that question so I am stupid …
In Journey into Power, Baron Baptiste’s first book in which the great modern-day yogi sets out the practice for an empowered way of being through meditation, asana, good nutrition and an ethically informed lifestyle, he addresses the mistakes of comparison and competition and not understanding one’s resistance made by those new to yoga. Both of these mistakes feed into notions that we have acquired through life.
First, the mistake of comparison and competition. We are so conditioned to the idea of competition, of win-lose, that it is hard for new yoga students to embrace the idea of simply doing their best without having to be as strong or as mobile or as well-balanced as others in the room. We are graded at school. We play sport and individuals and teams win and lose.
Winners are feted. Losers are sympathised with or pitied or criticised (I was in a weak under-19 rugby team. We were not strong, lacked size, had a number of players who had converted from soccer to play rugby and were in their first season and had first-time coaches in charge. Eventually the club decided something needed to be done about our poor record so they sent the club captain out to see us as we prepared for one game. He shouted, swore and harangued us for a few minutes. I felt totally disengaged from this supposed motivational process. It wasn’t attitude that held us back so much as it was that we didn’t have the players).
It is important to understand that there is no need to be good at performing asana. The yoga will do you. Even if you cannot get into pigeon and need to take a seated alternative, the pose will still be working effectively on your body and working transformational magic.
If you need to modify chaturanga dandasana that is fine. Putting your knees down on the floor is your means of getting access to the pose so that it can work its transformational magic upon you.
The prize in yoga practice is not being better than anyone else but is your own personal progress. Understand that and you will set in place a powerful precondition for your enjoyment and growth in yoga practice. If someone else can perform poses that you cannot or perform them in a way you cannot that says nothing about you. You are not bad at yoga and they are good at it. You are each simply participating in the practice. You do not need to have your mental club captain come and tear strips off you.
Second, not understanding your resistance. Given that we are conditioned to an attitude that we must be good at whatever we do, the mental resistance to how challenging yoga practice can be can be great. If we do not feel immediately that we are adept at yoga practice we can feel that it is not for us. Certainly with power vinyasa yoga as we teach it the physical challenge is high and there are those who are turned off because they feel it is too hard.
Understand your physical limitations and where you are coming from. If your lifestyle has been very sedentary and you have been sitting a lot every day you may expect to have tight hip flexors, a weak abdomen, a sore low back and a lack of vitality.
If you have made a particular activity your main recreational focus you may have the effects of that activity ingrained in your body. For instance, as someone who had been doing a lot of running before I commenced yoga practice I came to yoga with tight hamstrings and gluteal muscles, especially the piriformis on my left side, an imbalance between the strength of my lower body and that of my upper body and core, and a mouth-breathing habit. We regularly see cyclists who have poor posture, very tight ilio-tibial bands, concentrically tight chests and eccentrically stressed back muscles.
If the student can come out of delusion into recognition of where they are at then that acceptance will open doors for progress in yoga practice.
Give up what you must. Start to let go of the acquired patterns of moving, acting and thinking to set yourself free. If a pattern of behaviour is making you tighter, causing you to experience pain, is creating imbalances in your body then give it up. It is not who you are. It is simply something that you do.
If a particular way of thinking or feeling about yourself is causing you unhappiness and is limiting you in fulfilling yourself, give it up. Choose to see yourself through new eyes, from a different perspective. Give up the old pattern of thinking and come back to something pure, unaffected by competition or the need to meet the expectations (or worse, the perceived expectations) of others.
Rather than acquiring more resistance, start the process of giving up your resistance and whatever blocks you. Start to be the change that you want to see and experience in your life.
The Four Agreements 26th of March, 2017
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz offers a way of being. They are called “agreements” because there is an element of the social contract about them. The four agreements can be adhered to by one person alone but they start to be truly impactful in a society when they are adopted and observed by couples, and small groups of friends and colleagues and families and ultimately the whole of society.
In this summary I shall address the four agreements and seek to demonstrate how they may play out.
Agreement 1 – Be Impeccable with your Word
In the first agreement Ruiz echoes the yamas and the notion of satya (truthfulness) as well as the golden rule. Being impeccable with your word means to be truthful but also thoughtful in what you say. It means to speak not just from one’s own point of view but to be conscious of the recipient of one’s words and how one’s words will land with them.
Our thoughts, our words and our emotions become our reality. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
For me, words come easily in a constant stream where there is no apparent separation between the awakening of an idea and the verbalisation of that idea. My work is to establish filters between the idea and the statement so that the ideas that have harmful potential can be censored.
Censorship is no bad thing. In 1516 Thomas More wrote Utopia in which he described an island with a system of government and religious and social customs that he cast as being ideal. Censorship was one of the features of this ideal world.
To be impeccable with one’s word one must be present, aware and must come from a state of connection with the person/people with or to whom one is speaking.
Agreement 2 – Don’t take anything Personally
The second agreement works hand-in-glove with the first agreement. The second agreement acknowledges that not everyone will, on all occasions, observe the first agreement. When they do not, or when we hear something that we do not like or something is done to us that we do not like we must not take it personally.
What others say and do does not need to affect you. You can choose where you focus your thoughts and ensure they are coming from your spirit and not from external influences.
Some of you will recall Cameron Shayne, the founder of the Budokon® Yoga practice. Cameron is a provocative person and will, deliberately, make statements that trigger reactivity in others. When they do he just fixes them in the eye and says, “That’s just your story, sister”.
It is important that we understand our own reactivity, our own fragilities and raw nerves and not allow someone else’s words or actions to cause us unhappiness. Easier said than done! Being aware of our weaknesses and the way we behave when our weaknesses are threatened is the ground work of not taking things personally.
With awareness build the fire of your inner spirit such that when external factors impinge upon you, that inner fire is strong enough to withstand the external forces, that the inner you is bigger than anyone else’s words or actions.
Agreement 3 – Don’t make Assumptions
The third agreement addresses our tendency to remove presence and short-circuit thought processes by way of assumption, prejudice and stereotype.
It is easy to use assumptions. They are a substitute for actual knowledge. That person is short so they must have a chip on their shoulder. That person is Asian so they are good at mathematics. That person is physically attractive so they must be a nice person. That person has that job so they must be… That person went to that school so they must be…
Be curious. Doubt your preconceptions and be prepared to ask questions. Assumptions are often at the root of miscommunication. In a Hollywood depiction of this concept the Peter Weir movie Gallipoli shows officers agreeing that a bombardment of the Turkish trenches would commence at a certain time and finish at a certain time. With the Turks driven from their trenches or hunkered down defensively in their trenches the ANZAC troops would go over the top and attack. What was assumed was that everyone was operating on the same time. Watches were not synchronised with the result that there was a time lag between the cessation of the bombardment and the order to go over the top and attack. In that lag time the Turks recovered their positions and the infantry were massacred by machine gun fire. The assumption was disastrous.
A lack of awareness of the people with whom we communicate can cause us to assume that they will understand what we are speaking about. At Apollo Power Yoga we have a two-week starter pass for $25. I used to often refer to this pass as being a “fortnight pass” and assumed everyone knew what a fortnight was. In fact, many people do not, especially people from other countries or people for whom English is not their first language. I have abandoned my assumption and now refer to two weeks for the sake of clarity.
Communicate clearly. Make yourself understood and choose to understand the people with whom you are communicating.
Agreement 4 – Always do your Best
Always doing your best does not mean always being the best. We know with respect to our asana practice that there are days when we show up lower on energy than others. There are days when we are carrying an injury or when we are tired.
Even when we are not feeling at our best we can still do our best with what we have. We can put a knee down to reduce the impact of crescent lunge or side plank. We can take child’s pose rather than downward facing dog. We can do bridge instead of wheel. But whatever we do, we do our best.
When we do not do our best we abdicate responsibility and inevitably break the first and second, and quite probably also the third, agreements. Avoid regret by doing your best. I can recall a running race when I was at primary school when a fear of not winning caused me to not try and I chose to be well out of the race. I finished back in the pack with my schoolmates and I rue to this day, 40 years on, not having given my best.
No one, most importantly yourself, can fault you for doing your best. It is only when you fail to show up as best you can that you let yourself and others down. It is only when you do not give your best that you lay yourself open to negative self-criticism and judgement.
The Four Agreements are simple enough. Living them in real time is less easy. Be present, reflect rather than react and carry the Four Agreements with you to create a powerful shift in your way of being.
Money can make it worse 24th of December, 2016
When I was younger I put a lot of stock on things. I felt I lacked cool belongings as a child and wanted clothes and toys that I saw other kids with. I experienced upward socio-economic mobility in my lifetime as my father moved up through the levels of the civil service to more senior positions and as I took work in the professions as a lawyer. Margo was also a lawyer. We did not start a family until we had both become partners in our respective law firms and we were a well-off couple.
With that increased financial wealth I enjoyed having things that I felt I had lacked in my childhood. At Christmas time I felt I could demonstrate affection for my family by giving them more expensive presents that my income allowed me the opportunity to buy. I liked nice things and assumed that giving nice things would make my family members happy too.
I belatedly discovered that my family members felt under pressure to match the sort of presents that I was giving them and a form of Christmas arms race took place. With my father retired, my mother in part-time work and my brother the sole income earner in his household, this escalating process of providing ever more expensive gifts was simply placing a financial burden and a stress factor around Christmas that caused unhappiness rather than happiness.
Now, our family has dispensed with gifts. We get together to celebrate Christmas and share a lovely meal (duck this year). Absent the presents we can focus on relationships, bonding and love that is expressed from the heart not from the wallet. Financial wealth is not a bad thing. I do not believe that austerity and poverty are necessary prerequisites to spirituality. But I do believe that money can obscure the intended message.
Buying and giving a present to someone needs to be understood as an expression of love, affection or gratitude not a matter of obligation or tit-for-tat. Where the gift creates a sense of imbalance or shame that there is not an equal exchange of monetary value, the gift has not served its purpose. Ultimately, I would rather now be surrounded by love than by things. By removing things from the equation there is room for love to be fully present.
Resentment 30th of November, 2016
In Latin there is a verb sentir which means “to feel”. From this root we derive our word “resentment” which means a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury (Merriam Webster Dictionary).
Resentment is pervasive in our thoughts and is a significant source of unhappiness and mental upset. As can be seen from the Latin origin, the word resentment contemplates feeling again and again a sense of grievance. The sensation is not a pleasant one yet we subject ourselves to it repeatedly. This is neither productive nor enjoyable.
The next thing to note is that resentment comes from what we regard as an injury or insult done to us. It is a matter of point of view rather than an issue of fact. We may perceive some form of wrong done to us and from that perception generate the ill-feeling that is resentment where there is no injury or harm at all. It is not that what someone else has done or said has caused us harm. It is that we have chosen to perceive someone else’s words or actions as being harmful to us and have nurtured that perceived sense of grievance regardless of the truth of the situation.
As the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt” says,
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
In resentment the only thing that is real is the pain we give ourselves each time we put our attention into the resentment.
Look at some examples of resentment. A person has a job that provides them with a good income. They save from that income and take leave to go somewhere exotic, beautiful and warm. Another person in the same business organisation earns less, has different commitments and does not get to take the same holiday trip. The second person harbours a grievance against the first person that is more than envy or jealousy. They perceive the first person as having taken an opportunity away from them. They perceive the first person as showing off and using their pleasurable holiday experiences to make the second person feel bad. They perceive it as being unfair that the first person gets to take such a nice holiday while they do not.
A person finds themselves responsible for the care of another person – it may be a child or an aged relative. Circumstances are such that these care responsibilities deprive the carer of the opportunity to work/socialise/travel as they would like to do. The person in need of care is doing nothing to the carer but the carer starts to feel resentment towards the person they are caring for.
Two people are in the same line of business. One goes out on their own at an advantageous time and experiences immediate success. The other strikes out on their own enterprise a while later when circumstances are different and finds business extremely hard and they struggle through very lean times. The second person feels resentment towards the first person perceiving them to be unfairly dominating the market, drawing clients/customers with better brand recognition but a poorer product/service.
In each of these cases nothing has been done to the person bearing the resentment. They have chosen to perceive circumstances as amounting to some injustice, unfairness or injury to them.
Given that resentment comes from point of view, it is essential if you are to free yourself from the pain caused by resentment to shift your vision. Take time to understand matters from the standpoint of the other party. Use your insight into their experience to see that nothing has been done to you – there is no injury about which to bear a grudge.
Take time to reflect upon whether it advances you at all to dwell in the past. Resentment is a past-oriented state of mind. It holds us in the past. It causes us to relive repeatedly the pain of the past. It causes us to build the proportions of the imagined grievance. The more often we go into resentment the more energy, power and magnitude we give the matter of resentment.
Meditate upon what is real in the present moment. Embrace the naked reality of the moment. There is no pain right now so why take your mind to a source of unnecessary pain? Make a choice to put your mind into what gives you happiness now. Be grateful for all you have. Rather than compare someone else’s holiday with you being stuck at work, be grateful for a good, steady job. Rather than resenting care responsibilities you have, take a sense of greatness in yourself from being great for others. Be proud of your role and recognise the value it represents for the person you are caring for. Rather than denying someone else their good fortune, relish the fact that you are earning every client/customer/sale. Those who stumble into money through blind good luck do not always appreciate what they have. If you have had to invest your whole self in the acquisition of every piece of business you understand the value of hard work and take job satisfaction from your process of building something meaningful.
Freed of resentment, what becomes possible for you? You can appreciate the accomplishments and good fortune of others. You can avoid blaming anyone or anything for their place in your circumstances. You can choose a positive outlook and choose your circumstances exactly as they are and as they are not. The important thing is that it is a choice. Resentment is a way of thinking and we can keep it and suffer or let it go and be free of its pain. Gandhi said a person should let go of their anger before they lie down to sleep and the advice is sound and sage. Let go.
Presence 29th of October, 2016
“Be present” is something of a yoga community argot. We like the idea of it. We bandy the term around frequently. We do not always, however, hold to the essence of the term in our behaviour. If the yoga community is poor at being present, the wider community as a whole is equally as poor at the practice, if not worse.
What does it mean to be present? Why is being present important? How can we become present? Good questions. Here are some ideas about the answers, stated not as truth but as interpretation of one person. Your views are highly relevant and you may use this piece as a point of reference for your own deliberations on the meaning, value and practice of presence in your life.
To be present is to have your conscious awareness focused on whatever or whoever you are interacting with in a particular moment. If you are speaking with someone your attention is fully and without distraction upon the person with whom you are speaking, hearing their words, seeing their body language and feeling their energetic and emotional state.
If you are washing the dishes your mind is concentrated upon the handling of the dishes in the soapy water, the movements of the dishcloth or brush upon the dirty surfaces and all other aspects of the process without your mind being engaged in other thoughts extraneous to the washing process. If you are sitting in meditation your mind is in a completely calm state of observation of the sensations you are experiencing now – the feel of the floor beneath you, the curvature of your spine, the flow of breath in and out of your body or the tingling warmth of energy in your hands. It is not involved in worrying about bills, analysing past conversations, thinking about sex or any other form of mental distraction. The Bhagavad Gita states that the person who sits in an attitude of meditation and still thinks about things outside of that moment is deluded and is a hypocrite!
In The Power of Now Eckhart Tolle asserts that to stay present in your everyday life it helps to stay rooted within yourself. Explaining the expression “rooted within yourself” he says:
It means to inhabit your body fully. To always have some of your attention in the inner energy field of your body. To feel the body from within, so to speak. Body awareness keeps you present. It anchors you in the Now.
Sometimes presence comes upon us when we are engrossed in an activity. In work sometimes we become so utterly absorbed in what we are doing that there is no separation between our awareness and our thoughts and actions. As a former litigation lawyer there were times when I would experience presence in court. I would lose any sense of self-consciousness (what I looked like, how straight was my tie, what did my voice sound like) and would be utterly engrossed in the exchange of words with the witness or the formulation of argument with the judge, drawing upon the legal research and knowledge I had and the detailed understanding of the facts of the case. Everything else would drop away. I would lose any sense of the passage of time. I would tune out from what other people were doing in the room – the coming and going of people from the courtroom, the movement of the court attendants around the court would all fade out of consciousness.
The conscious mind can only hold one thought at a time. When you hold one point of awareness that relates to what is in existence in a particular moment for a series of moments without your mind seeking to swap thoughts or without your mind moving into a different time frame (past or future) then you are present. The idea of multi-tasking is not concerned with presence. Multi-tasking essentially involves you juggling thoughts and swapping your attention from one point of focus to another in rapid succession. As the conscious mind may only hold one thought at a time, to multi-task you must let go of one thought and exchange it for another to attend to several different tasks. Like the juggler, there is a limit to how many balls you can keep in the air at one time and how many thoughts you can keep within your general field of consciousness without one falling.
When we are busy and have a lot of things to attend to we are more likely to forget something. The simple weight of keeping track of information, tasks and responsibilities becomes too much. I had a personal assistant who was not successful at handling high workloads. She tried to emulate another personal assistant in the firm who was, by contrast, highly effective at handling demanding workloads of a variety of different jobs from a variety of different sources. The less successful PA would run from one thing to another. As each new job came up she would leave whatever she was doing and start on the new task. All she ended up with was a long list of unfinished jobs. This was a model of distraction dressed up as multi-tasking.
The more successful PA was very astute at determining priorities. Once she had decided what tasks there were to be done, how much time they were likely to take and what their relative urgency was, she would set to and start completing one job after the other. Her attention was not distracted and split between different jobs. It was focussed on what was in front of her. She ended up with a series of timeously completed tasks that had been given her full attention. This was an example of presence giving the appearance of the ability to do many things all at once.
What value does presence have? For a start, it is not argued here that one needs to be present every waking moment of the day. There is time to dream, to imagine and to let one’s mind wander and be drawn into fancy. However, unconscious behaviour that occurs when we are not present can be detrimental – e.g. over-eating when watching television, over-imbibing at social functions when your glass keeps getting topped up and you lose awareness of how many glasses you have actually had. The first benefit, therefore, is in ensuring that we behave as we would choose to behave rather than behaving reactively or in a way that will cause regret later. Presence helps us make good choices.
Presence builds relationships. When you are present in your dealings with someone they feel that. You convey clearly your interest in someone when you are present. They notice that you are really hearing what they are saying, really understanding your meaning and really engaging with them at an energetic and emotional level. That builds bonds. Whether it be the bonds between a husband and wife, between and parent and child, between an employer and employee, between a coach and a player or whatever, the investment of being engaged and present with someone bears fruit in the strength of the relationship.
Presence improves efficiency. In the manner of the two personal assistants mentioned earlier, the absence of presence and the tendency to flit from one job to another deprived one of efficiency but the quality of attention and presence in the other made her very highly functioning. There is an exercise you can do in which you take pen and paper and time yourself writing down the alphabet and then the phrase “Multi-tasking disengages the brain”. Then time yourself doing the same but this time alternate letters so write “a” on one line then “M” on the next line, back to “b” on the first line and “u” on the second line and so on. You will see which is the most effective way of operating.
Presence improves quality. Teaching yoga is but one example of any number of contexts in which presence fuels quality. A yoga teacher can wander into class distracted by the cares of their life and call poses without ever engaging with their students in the moment. The students will have had a class but not a class given to them. On the other hand a teacher can tune in and be fully present to their class and students and tailor make a practice that has holds of just the right duration to test the students and variations of just the right difficulty to test the students and resting poses at just the right moments to keep the students energised and in the flow. In one the teacher’s words will be impersonal and in the other each student will feel that the teacher is speaking just to them. In very general terms the two practices may bear many similarities but one will not be of significance or meaning to the students and the other will have the students walking out of class saying what a great experience it was.
Presence brings Perspective. At times issues in our lives swell to enormous proportions. Angst over a harsh word from a boss or a demeaning comment from a loved one or concern over a looming problem can all seem to be overwhelming. Slow down. Be still. See things as they are without the lens of panic, fear or reactivity. In the stillness of presence the reprimand from the boss can be seen as that person’s thoughtless reactivity, thrown out because they were stressed and not coping. The seemingly cruel put down from a loved one can be seen as a careless piece of sarcasm rather than a genuinely felt feeling. The change in circumstances that is approaching (sale of your house, move to a new town, your children’s exams etc.) can be taken in your stride because you have the necessary inner strengths to take right action at the right time. Festering over issues just causes them to take on a greater significance than is necessary. Being present allows you to see things dispassionately, from a critical distance, and in so doing, put things in their proper perspective.
How to acquire presence? Our minds are powerful tools of thought, imagination and creativity. We are surrounded by a tremendous array of stimuli at all times. Given these factors it is easy for us to be distracted from the moment. Presence is, therefore, not always readily available. Try sitting for meditation and watch how relentlessly your mind will try to pull you off into the labyrinth of thought. The key is to focus. Become engrossed in one thing that exists now. Your breath, for instance, is a great anchor to the present moment. If you take off your shoes and socks and concentrate your awareness on the feel of the carpet or grass or sand or whatever surface is beneath your feet you will become present. At a recent workshop for the group doing our 40 Days to Personal Revolution programme, participants shared that they felt completely present when, in the case of a dancer, when she was dancing, in the case of a mother of a small child, when she was engaging with her daughter, and in the case of a woman who enjoys yoga, hiking, running and travelling, when she is engaged in those activities that are for her and about her vitality.
Commit yourself fully to being aware of something tangible now. Watch as distractions endeavour to pull you away but hold fast to your commitment to simple attention to what exists in the physical world now. Practice this on your own and then apply the practice to your interactions. When speaking with someone remove the distractions. Do not look at your phone! Look the person in the eye. When in conversation, rather than seeking opportunities to say what you want, listen so as to truly hear and comprehend what the other person is saying. Give them your undivided attention. Use the practice of presence daily to dispel negative behaviour and tendencies, to enhance your efficiency, to build relationships and to put things in perspective. Let being present be more than just a clichéd phrase more dishonoured than observed and turn it into a practice that lets you be the person you want to be.
Drishti 29th of September, 2016
During class you will have heard reference made to the term drishti. Drishti is the yogic gaze where the practitioner settles their eyes to a single point and rests them there. Seemingly, it is a physical action, the movement of the student’s eyes, and one with an outward focus. However, the greatest impact and influence of drishti is internal and at the level of mind.
I have heard of studies suggesting that something in the order of 80% of the external stimuli we receive is taken in through our eyes. Other studies have concluded that there are around 2 million individual stimuli that can be perceived by us through all our senses in any one moment. On that basis, approximately 1.6 million visual stimuli compete for our attention each moment of our day. With so much stimuli available our eyes become not just a tremendous tool for receiving information but also a tremendous vehicle for distraction.
Take a standing balancing pose such as tree pose or standing leg raise for example. If we try to practice such poses with our eyes closed we find it extremely hard to balance for any length of time. We find we need our eyes to help orient us in space and we use the information gained about our surroundings through our eyes to regulate our balance. Similarly, if our eyes are open but are darting about to many different things we are also likely to find it difficult to balance. Distraction from too much stimuli is as harmful to balance as too little information to help us know how we are aligned relative to our environment.
Hence, the cue to use drishti – choose a point at which to rest your eyes and use that point as a reference for your balance. By selecting one visual point of reference the student has two constants with which to work – the constant of their standing foot at the floor which is unmoving and the constant of their point of visual focus which is unmoving. Anchoring to these two constants aids in balancing.
Is that the sum of it? Does drishti simply help with physical balance and nothing more? No. In fact, that is just the beginning of its use for us as yoga practitioners. The style of yoga in which Apollo Power Yoga are leaders nationally is power vinyasa yoga. Power vinyasa is a style of practice with a great deal of movement in it. We cannot simply pick one point only at which to rest our gaze when moving from tadasana with our arms and eyes raised to the sky, then to uttanasana in a deep forward fold with our eyes at our shins or the wall behind us, then to halfway lift with a straight back and neck and our eyes to the floor in front of our feet, then to high plank, again with our eyes directed to the floor, then low plank with our eyes directed forward towards the front of the room, then to upward facing dog with our eyes either straight forward (as I prefer) or looking up (as some others prefer but be careful with this), and then to downward facing dog with our eyes either at the floor around the centre of our mat or further back towards our feet.
In vinyasa practice our point of drishti is continuously changing. However, the point of focus must be deliberate and conscious with no unnecessary or extraneous movement. Keep your eye movements and the point of drishti focus as simple and natural as possible and geared towards good alignment in your pose. For example, I issued a warning about looking upwards in upward facing dog. I did so because sometimes students drop their heads back in up dog creating excessive compression of the cervical spine which can be very uncomfortable, at the expense of length and upward lift. I prefer that students look forwards in upward facing dog, stretch the back of their necks long and press the back of their heads towards the wall behind them to create a tadasana-like postural attitude.
A second example relates to when students are in a revolved position. Often they drop their chin towards their chest and turn their drishti towards the back of the room. This brings their neck into flexion (rounded forwards) and initiates a forward rounding of the rest of their spine too. A flexed or rounded back is not as effective nor as safe in twists as a straight spine.
Use your drishti to help align your whole body and make the most of the opening of the front side of your torso as you can, even in poses where your torso is turned to the side of the room (extended side angle, revolved crescent lunge, triangle, revolved triangle, half moon, revolved half moon and so on). When turned sideways, set your drishti to a point just forward of the front edge of your mat (it does not matter much whether this point is on the floor, the side wall or the ceiling) and use that point of focus to help you elongate the anterior or front side of your spine. Allow the natural inward curves of your lumbar and cervical spine to be present along with the natural outward curves of the sacrum and coccyx and your thoracic spine. Then you will be able to twist freely to the greatest extent and make the most of the pose – all from drishti.
Drishti has great benefits for mind as well as the orientation and alignment of your body. Think back to the notion of 1.6 million visual stimuli competing for your attention at any one time. That is so much as to be overwhelming. Each stimulus has the potential to trigger a thought and with such an array of potential thoughts one’s mind can be very scattered and distracted. Drishti simplifies and clarifies the visual focus and with it, the potential for mental distraction.
In setting your eyes to a point in drishti, be incurious about what you are seeing. Avoid allowing your mind to drift into judgment or analysis of what you are seeing. Instead, simply see what you see and turn your mental awareness inward. Put more mental focus on what you feel internally. Wake up to the neglected inner senses and gain more respect and understanding of your body. You will find this process soothing to your nervous system. A calm, meditative state will be possible if you simply rest your eyes at a single point and draw your conscious mind inward. This internal focus is sometimes called the Shiva netra, or the eye of Shiva (sometimes, the third eye). Shiva was a great god of Hindu mythology, both a creator and destroyer. Shiva could wreak vengeance and break down those who did wrong but he could also redeem and build up those who were worthy. Insight and awareness allow you to tear down those aspects of yourself that are damaging or harmful and create or enhance those elements that serve you well and give you vitality and contentment.
Osho had a great saying that resonates with me: “That which diminishes with your awareness is sin. That which grows with your awareness is virtue”. I see that as an expression of dristhi operating at the level of mind and as an expression of the Shiva netra. Out of a confusion of external impressions and outwardly focussed thoughts comes clarity and calm inner awareness. Rather than being stuck in unconscious habitual patterns of thought or behaviour we can choose to be and to act in a way congruent with our heart and our own inner truth. Rather than being concerned with looking good and heavily influenced by others’ opinions of us, we can grow in self-esteem and take our whole way of being from the clarity that comes with insight, with our drishti turned inwards.
Use drishti during your yoga practice and in your life off your mat to find clarity. You can align your body in asana practice with the aid of drishti and you can align your life with the calm presence that comes from internal focus rather than external distraction. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali enunciate the eight limbs of yoga. The final three are dharana (single-pointed focus), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (enlightened consciousness). Drishti as a practice of fixing your eyes to a point and, in consequence, fixing your mind to a point (eka grata – single pointed focus) is the gateway to these advanced stages of yoga practice.
Depth in Yoga Practice 29th of August, 2016
What is depth in yoga practice? A lot of people bandy the expression “deepen my practice” but when asked what they mean they typically respond, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”.
This uncertainty is understandable as we do not, as a society, embrace yoga as a way of being. Many people who have had some experience of yoga feel a calling to find more meaning in their lives and more fulfilment in their daily experience. We seek something that has a more enduring satisfaction than the hit of white sugar, the taste of chocolate, the lift of caffeine or the numbness of alcohol.
The yearning for depth and for a holistic sense of well-being and life purpose is natural. The quick-fix answers of the modern era do not provide a solution to such primal feelings. Instead, there is merit in reaching back through the ages to a time and a place in which wise people established a formula for living with contentment.
At the same time that there is a yearning for depth the patterns of behaviour and thought that have held sway, sometimes for many, many years, are resistant to giving up their hold upon us. As much as we may seek transformation and depth in our experience of yoga, we also shy away from the excavation process.
At an intensive Hamish was leading, one of the participants was responding to questions and could feel energy and emotion moving in her. It was distressing to her and she said to Hamish, “Don’t go too deep”. This occurred on the first morning of a week long program. The questions had teased out a thread and gentle tugging on the thread pulled on something deep-seated for the participant.
The hold that the old patterns had on her was such that, instead of embracing the inquiry and choosing to follow it to root causes and to healing, she wanted to close down and tuck the thread in where it could not be pulled upon any more.
Depth in yoga practice can take many forms. It could be folding deeper in Uttanasana. It could be bending deeper in your front knee in Virabhadrasana 1. It could be reaching your heels with your hands in Ustrasana or binding your raised foot with your hands in Natarajasana. It may be achieving hand balances or taking binds in poses. But physical depth is ultimately not food for the soul. On the contrary, proficiency at asana practice can lead to pride, performance and a concern for looking good.
A key to depth in yoga practice is breath awareness. Just as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali trace the limbs of yoga and pass from asana (limb 3) to pranayama (limb 4) so we should be aware that through asana practice we need to come into a closer, more meaningful connection with our breath, breath representing the gateway to meditation and to the spirit.
Turning your focus to your breath is a simple and very effective way of acquiring calm at any moment. A man from New Mexico who travels the world and has spent time in Christchurch and practiced at Apollo Power Yoga, once broke his leg in a remote area a long way from help. In the time before aid could get to him he describes focussing on his breath to keep himself calm and to take his mind off the pain from his leg.
Many sports people speak of drawing upon their breath to sustain them through moments of significance in their competitions. Women in labour are called to use their breath as a means of regulating pain and moving their body in synchronicity with their contractions to bring forth their baby.
We all know that when stress builds the most immediate tool at our disposal is to breathe more deeply and more slowly. Our intuition tells us this is so and our body craves the relaxing effect that long, slow breath cycles taken through the nose have upon our nervous system, our hormonal body and our emotions.
The more you put your mind in your breath the more awareness you gain of your body. You become present to areas of tension in your body. You become present to subtle qualities of energy. You start to gain a sense of being that is not wrapped up in mind or thinking.
As you embrace the understanding that you are not thought – not any single thought nor any collection of thoughts – but that your most primal spark of identity is not of mind but is of spirit or soul or being then you may construct a way of being in service to that truth rather than in denial of it or in pursuit of short-lived feel-good sensations.
Baptiste style power vinyasa yoga as we teach it at Apollo Power Yoga invites you to depth in the sense of profound physical transformation through challenging asana practice. It invites you to depth through breath awareness and direction and the limitless expansion of energy from breath direction. It invites you to contemplate your way of being against a backdrop of philosophical wisdom drawn eclectically from the ages.
The woman who was unwilling to go too deep on training would hardly be likely to praise Hamish as a teacher, leader and coach by calling him superficial or shallow. Yet there was an implicit request on her part that Hamish keep the inquiry at a shallow depth.
There are studios and practices that do business in the superficial. There is a pretty façade about the environment and the idea of yoga but there is no real depth. It is like lipstick – smeared on over the top to look good but changing nothing. At Apollo Power Yoga we seek to honour Baron Baptiste’s message of personal transformation through yoga by taking the focus off the superficial clothing and make-up of people’s way of being and putting it on the flesh and bones.
Your own personal truth, the truth of your body, your emotions and your spiritual reality lie deep and await excavation. Use the limbs of yoga as tools to undertake that process of finding depth. The rewards for so doing are great.
Aversion and Attraction 28th of July, 2016
Aversion and Attraction:
Yoga philosophy tells us that suffering in life comes from our attraction for certain things and our aversion for other things. For instance, we may have an attraction for sweet tasting foods that causes our health to suffer in the form of tooth decay or Type-2 diabetes or obesity. We may have an aversion to pain that causes us to be very insular and cautious and we suffer through missed opportunities for fun, adventure and life experience.
Aversion and attraction are types of attachment. We are attached to the pleasurable sensations to which we are attracted. We are attached to the behaviours or conditions that we perceive protect us from the things to which we have an aversion. The ancient yoga texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali or the Vedas, assert that we cannot be liberated souls, content and fulfilled in any moment, so long as we carry attachments.
If someone were to sit to meditate they would find it difficult to attain a calm state of clarity in their mind if they wanted the room warmer or the floor softer or the surroundings quieter or wanted something to eat or drink. The attractions and aversions, their attachments, would be impediments to the meditative process. What should the person do? They might heat the room ahead of time and collect cushions and soft blankets to sit or kneel upon and they might ensure they have eaten and drunken all they desire before they sit to meditate. They might ensure that there is no-one else around who will make any noise and that their telephone is turned off or set to silent. And this becomes the condition, the only condition, in which they can meditate.
This is not the way advocated by the ancient texts. This way is the way of fuelling attachments. The person who craves sex and sits in meditation thinking of sex is not meditating. The Gita has a short and direct statement that the person who sits in the attitude of meditation but nonetheless turns their mind to sense objects is deluded and a hypocrite. Instead, the way forward is to experience the attractions and aversions but to refuse to yield to them until the habit of reactively acting out one’s attachments is replaced with the habit of just being. Baron Baptiste summarises this principle as “Relax with what is”.
When you feel the lure of an attachment, recognise it for what it is, choose not to give in to the attachment and put your mental focus on something tangible and present, such as your breath, which will hold you calm and steady. The craving for that to which you are attached will go away. It takes discipline and practice. There is a good definition in the Sutras of practice. There, practice is said to be that which is adhered to in all earnestness, for a long time and without relent. There is nothing wishy-washy about that definition. It is a call to commitment. It is a call to making a new way of being for yourself. It is a call to be conscious and intentional in what you do rather than be reactive and habitual in your behaviour. Again as Baron Baptiste says, be a conscious act rather than an unconscious accident.
Be present to the habitual patterns of thinking or behaviour. Notice to what your mind is drawn and make a conscious choice. Does it serve me to think this way or not? If it does not, deliberately turn your mind elsewhere or, as we say, shift your vision. Berating yourself over your weight or the way you appear in the mirror or over any slip-ups you may have made in the day or whatever is ultimately dispiriting. Acknowledge what is, and be for yourself exactly as you are and exactly as you are not. If growth is possible, as it almost inevitably is, then let acceptance be the fertile soil in which to plant the seed of your future growth.
Become present to your habitual and unconscious ways of behaving. Ask yourself whether they do or do not serve you. Make a conscious choice to pursue them or not. Become the author of your future by acting intentionally and in the moment.
You will find that as you become present to your thoughts and behaviours you will be able to watch from the deepest level of your Self and you will notice tendencies of attraction and aversion. You will then notice that you are not a victim of craving or weakness, nor an unwitting puppet tossed and played with by the gods for their sport. You will realise you are the master of the passions within you and a middle path is open to you – one in which you can relax with whatever you are experiencing and think and act with composure.
What Defines Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga? 28th of July, 2016
What Defines Baptiste Power Vinyasa?
A recent trip to Auckland, and a sampling of the “power vinyasa” classes available at the yoga studios there has given us cause to reflect upon the qualities of Baptiste Power Vinyasa.
Baron Baptiste created his expression of Power Vinyasa Yoga several decades ago, and wrote the textbook Journey Into Power to help us understand each posture in the sequence, and the intelligence of the sequence itself as well as to introduce students of yoga to meditation and the philosophical underpinnings of the practice.
The Journey Into Power sequence consists of up to 11 series, some of which are optional and can be dropped from a shorter class. Some parts of the sequence must be included in every class which correctly calls itself “Power Vinyasa”. The series in the sequence are:
Integration: Extended Child’s Pose, Down Dog and Ragdoll poses are taken at the start of most of our classes, to integrate body, mind and breath.
Awakening: Several rounds of Sun Salutation A, then Sun Salutation B, awaken our bodies and breath into flow. The Sanskrit tem “vinyasa” means to flow without restriction. We introduce our bodies and breath to flow in this early part of the class, and then use that flow throughout the rest of the class to transition from one posture to the next and renew our connection with our breath. The Awakening series is essential to a Baptiste Power Vinyasa class – it’s the “Vinyasa” in “Power Vinyasa”.
Vitality: Twisting postures such as Crescent Lunge with Prayer and Twist, Extended Side Angle, and Thunderbolt with Prayer and Twist vitalise us.
Equanimity: Postures that require us to stand and balance on one foot test and develop our sense of equanimity. Grace under pressure!
Grounding: The triangle and twisting triangle postures, sometimes including straddle leg forward folds and split-leg forward folds, ground and centre us. When we tune into our connection with the earth in these postures, we find extension, space and flow.
Igniting: The back-bending stage is the high-point and an essential part of every Baptiste Power Vinyasa class. In our lives outside of the yoga class room, we spend far too much time rounded forward over our desks, our steering wheels, the kitchen bench, whatever. Rounding forward creates a “postural no”, closing down our hearts and our throats and withdrawing our essential energy from the people around us. When we open up into back bending our essential energy is released and ignites our power. The “postural yes” we create in back bending enables us to Be a Yes in the other areas of our life that require our positive energy. And physically, back bending strengthens our back muscles, which are part of our core.
Stability: Having strengthened our backs through back bending, we then turn our attention to the front and side of our torso in the Stability series. Newcomers to Baptiste Power Vinyasa are often bewildered to find themselves doing abdominal twists, 30:60 leg lifts, torso crunches and the like. It’s most often at this stage of the practice that people who’ve been brought along by a friend will look at them with an expression which clearly says, “I thought you were my friend! WTF is this?!”
But this part of the practice is essential and we never neglect it. The “Power” in “Power Vinyasa” is the strengthening of our cores. Most of the other postures in a yoga practice cannot be achieved with good alignment unless our cores are strong. And yes, we can make our cores strong simply through practicing those other postures – if we have 3 to 4 hours every day to practice yoga. Most of us don’t. Baron recognised that, and successfully substituted that with 3 to 4 minutes (every day, mind!) of non-negotiable, targeted core strengthening work in the Power Vinyasa practice. Taking that small amount of time to strengthen our cores enables the rest of our practice to take off: low plank, crow pose, floating forward, aeroplane pose, headstands, handstands, you name it – these all demand core strength. And they come within the envelope of our ability when we strengthen our cores. Not to mention, that outside of the yoga classroom, strong cores keep our waistlines trim and prevent back injury. It’s all good!
Opening: The next phase of the practice is a blissful opening of our hip joints. Pigeon, Dragon, Frog – if these postures are not yet synonymous with “bliss” for you, you’re still holding tension, tightness, and maybe stored negative emotion in your hip joints. So you need these postures, and that’s why they’re an essential part of a Baptiste Power Vinyasa practice. Much of what we cannot avoid doing, such as sitting at our desks or in our cars, or standing at our jobs, and also much of what we do which has other benefits, such as running or cycling, results in the tightening of our hip joints, hamstrings, gluteal muscles and piriformis, and ilio-tibial bands. This part of the practice is our chance to reverse the process and let the tension go. The more intense it feels, the more good it’s doing for us. Breathe and relax with what is.
Release: In this phase of the practice, we continue to release tension and tightness from our bodies, concentrating on the “west-side” (back) in forward folding postures and the “east-side” (front) in postures such as Fish and Table-top.
Rejuvenation: The inversion postures, such a Waterfall, Shoulderstand, Headstand and Handstand literally turn us upside down. And since our normal experience of life, right side up, is that we get older as we go along, turning ourselves upside down must make us younger – right? We do feel younger when we get upside down regularly, mostly because we’re using gravity to help drain away that which we do not need. Inversions move lymph in our body and stimulate our immune systems. And our psyches love to look at the world from a different angle – it is rejuvenating. Watch your cat sometime and notice how s/he spends part of everyday looking at the world upside down.
Deep Rest: Supine Twist gives us a final “wringing out” and then we relax into Savasana. During this phase, our bodies, minds and spirits take on the lessons which the rest of the practice has produced for them. This is where we re-write our own software and let our internal repair mechanisms know what they’d better get busy with. This is an essential part of the Baptiste Power Vinyasa practice, and we give it to you unstintingly, and uncluttered by readings and recordings. If we’ve been doing our job as Baptiste Methodology teachers during the rest of the practice, you should have heard us speaking into the spiritual aspect of the practice, so we can leave you in silence during Savasana to give your mind a final clearing, and wash away the psychic grime. When we’ve fully engaged with this phase of the practice, we come out to face the rest of our lives refreshed and invigorated.
In the decades since Baron created his Power Vinyasa practice, many other teachers and practices have sought to take the practice and put their own spin on it. Sometimes this happens in the name of being “more creative”, and sometimes this is the result of uncertainty over whether students will withstand the full strength of a Baptiste Power Vinyasa practice, or perhaps be turned off by it.
This has resulted in some practices being offered as ”power vinyasa” classes, which do not follow the intelligence of the Journey Into Power sequence. Classes which do not include the essential elements of Vinyasa (Sun Salutations) and Power (Core Strengthening and Back bending), are not correctly called Power Vinyasa classes. Particularly if they simply offer up a mish-mash of poses, and sequences which throw together poses that can follow one after the other, in a “physically possible” way, but they make little sense when they do so.
Curiously, the more creative teachers get in sequencing the less authority and power they have. Typically the creativity is pre-planned so the teacher is not in the moment with their class but is in their head remembering what comes next. It is much better to move from the established and proven Journey into Power sequence which has, across the 11 series, lots of opportunity for subtle variations that keep the practice fresh and challenging and engaging but which do not lose the sequencing intelligence of Journey into Power.
Many students who have experienced the Baptiste style of practice we teach at Apollo Power Yoga and who have subsequently travelled or moved away comment to us that they cannot find a good yoga class where they go. As teachers and practitioners of Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga, we ensure that Apollo Power Yoga’s community of yoga students receive the physical strength and mobility that Journey into Power offers as well as the spiritual awareness that comes from teaching against a back drop not of dogmatic mechanics but of enlightened philosophy.
Yoga Perfectionism versus Yoga Purism 27th of June, 2016
Yoga Perfectionism versus Yoga Purism:
In a recent class I began to speak about the distinction between a Yoga Perfectionist and a Yoga Purist. When speaking to the philosophical side of the practice I have no plan. I speak to what I am feeling and to what I am sensing from the students in the room. If I quote someone in so doing I draw on what I have learned but do not try to remember something I read two minutes before class. I do not walk into class with a piece of paper with information on it and read to the class. I seek to sense the need of the moment and speak to whatever will meet that need.
In this case, I sensed that there were those who were trying very hard in class to “do yoga right” and that there were others who were less proficient who were seeing themselves as in some way not doing yoga at all or that yoga was not right for them because they were not “good at yoga”.
I started to speak of the Yoga Perfectionist. This is someone who is consumed with the mechanics of poses and seeks to “do” the pose in a text-book correct fashion. Anything less than that is in some way a failure. They seek to perform all possible asana and take on advanced variations as if in some way being able to perform asana will prove them as a person. There is no room for forgiveness or joy in the Yoga Perfectionist. They criticise themselves for any shortcoming in their practice and berate themselves when they do not meet the standards they imagine they must achieve. Their focus is on outcomes when, as the Bhagavad Gita tells us, we find freedom by being unaffected by all actions and unconcerned about all outcomes.
The Yoga Perfectionist treats their body as if it is something to be dominated and forced into performing actions regardless of any feedback the body may be giving the mind. Mind is dominant in Yoga Perfectionists and their bodies are just tools to be compelled into poses no matter the degree of duress required. Yoga Perfectionists epitomise the notion of “trying hard” and because every moment is a fight for more precise alignment or a greater degree of depth there is no room for the Yoga Perfectionist to enjoy and take pleasure in what they are doing.
There is a phrase used in the Bikram yoga dialogue that says, “If you are doing the pose 99 percent right you are doing it 100 percent wrong”. That is the Yoga Perfectionist’s mantra.
The Yoga Perfectionist is obsessed with competitiveness and comparisons. If someone else is doing something then they must be able to do it also – and better than the other person. They will scan the people within their field of vision to see how well they are doing their pose and will seek to out-do everyone. They crave praise for their poses. Their practice becomes a performance in which they seem to project the message, “Look at me and see how this should be done”.
Finally, there is a quality of self-absorption about the Yoga Perfectionist. They do not radiate positive energy to others in the room. They are not part of a group process and group flow. They are stuck in their own selfish drive to be the best, to perform yoga asana exactly, and in so doing they fail to come from any place of connection with the others in the room.
I began yoga practice in a Bikram studio where a competitive atmosphere was encouraged. I received praise from teachers for my performance in poses, and came to crave the praise. I was asked to give demonstrations of poses from time to time and revelled in that attention. Ninety-nine percent right, 100 percent wrong? I liked that idea and strove for perfection. I was a Yoga Perfectionist. The seeds of losing that attitude were born when I acknowledged for myself that I was cheating in a particular pose (a locust variation where your arms are placed beneath you, your arms and upper chest remain on the floor and you raise your legs as high off the floor in a back bend as you can). This was a pose I had been asked to demonstrate on a number of occasions because I got my legs up pretty high. I fought hard every time I did the pose to get my legs way up because another student who had been at the studio when I first started attending could do so and I wanted to be better than him. I was never corrected in the way I did the pose by the teachers but often praised. Then I realised that I was cheating by not keeping my arms pressed flat to the floor. Instead, I was bending my arms at the elbow and using the lift of my elbows to give lift to my torso. I lost respect for myself for using this device and being proud of the superficial depth of the pose when it was founded on a cheat. I also lost respect for my teachers that they had either not seen this flaw in technique or, having seen it, had done nothing to correct it.
It was an instantaneous epiphany with respect to that pose but not to the whole concept of being a Yoga Perfectionist. I went to every teacher training and workshop as if all eyes were on me and as if I had to perform.
I undertook my first training to be a yoga teacher in the Baptiste Power Yoga methodology, with nothing behind me but my Bikram yoga practice. My body was attuned to Bikram yoga (a practice which does not challenge or develop all-body strength) and was not strong enough to sustain the upper body and core stability work demanded by power vinyasa practice. I found in one long session that I was able to hold Down Dog no longer and needed to take Child’s Pose – not even Extended Child’s Pose but Child’s Pose with my arms back alongside my body.
That moment started to shift my attitude to yoga further because I was given complete freedom to take that resting pose. No one criticised me or openly judged me or in any way held me up to ridicule. I was just given space to rest. I did not have to do every pose. I did not have to fight and strain and kill myself on my mat. I could just be a yoga practitioner with the awareness to know when to rest.
Over time I have developed further and find myself less and less feeling the need to do everything on the basis that I have to perform or achieve any standard of perfection. Injuries have helped in that process. Injuries require one to back off, modify perhaps, leave out certain poses or extensions and just flow with what is available. Injuries are educational and humbling and help bring one out of Yoga Perfectionism. Simple awareness of the fact that I am in a state of mind where I am not part of the class but am a part from the class and am acting as if all eyes are on me helps change my way of practicing. By giving up my concern for the way that I appear to the other students in the class and by coming from a place of simply having fun in the practice and using it as a vehicle for feeling good rather than looking good I can drop the Yoga Perfectionist mind-set.
What is possible as a consequence? We ask a lot for students to reach into possibility. On our trainings we invite the participants to drop certain disempowering ways of thinking or of seeing themselves and then ask, “What is possible right now?” What is possible from not participating in Yoga Perfectionism is a taste of Yoga Purism. Yoga Purism is of the moment. It is an expression of your breath. It has no care for what other people think. It is unaffected by actions because it is not concerned with outcomes and achievements.
What does it mean to be of the moment? It means to be free in your mind from thinking about the past or the future. The past tends to plague us. Some people can be extremely past-oriented in their thinking, nurturing grievances, wallowing in self-pity, even basking in past glories. This past-oriented focus prevents us from making the most of this moment. It causes us to bring a past bad experience with a person into play in our present experience of that person. It is fundamentally limiting in confining us to what has been rather than what is possible now.
Similarly, future-focussed thinking can be harmful too. It helps to have some sense of vision, purpose and direction but it does not help to fret about what might be in an uncertain future. It does not help to imagine that fulfilment is only possible at some undetermined point in our future rather than right now in the present. There is a well-known prayer that says, “God, give me the Courage to change that which I can, the Serenity to live with that which I cannot change, and the Wisdom to know the difference.” The future falls into the category of that which we cannot change – except by what you we do now. Put your awareness and attention on what is now and the future will take care of itself. That is a feature of the Yoga Purist.
Yoga Purism as an expression of your breath is a fundamental notion. All vinyasa practice is, at essence, a breathing practice. The single element of the practice where I feel students have the greatest resistance is that of breath. Some individuals have adopted ujjayi breathing well and it shows in their practice – they are calm, patient and strong.
However, many more students seem secretive about their breath, reluctant to let themselves hear their own breath, let alone let anyone else hear them. These people drop to their knees and take a drink of water when they are out of breath, misunderstanding their lack of breath and life force for tiredness or over-heating. All students grow in the power of their practice and lose self-consciousness when they embrace ujjayi breathing, the breath of victory, in their vinyasa yoga practice.
The Yoga Purist effectively understands the difference between challenging themselves to grow and trying hard. Trying to compel results or setting deadlines by which time certain outcomes must be achieved is counter-productive. It suggests that the student controls the process and the outcomes. I often say that we do not “do yoga”. Rather, the yoga does us. The Yoga Purist takes this concept to heart. They show up on their mat with no expectation and no intention other than to breathe and bring themselves to an edge, wherever that may be on a particular day, and then they are open to receive whatever the practice has to offer their body, mind and spirit that day. It is not a case of taking from the practice but of receiving.
By adopting these practices, the Yoga Purist loses all need to be better than anyone and loses all concern for looking good and the pride associated with that. Instead they access the possibility of connection – breathing, moving and taking their whole way of being from a place of oneness with everyone else involved in the practice. Make this Purism your way of being rather than the isolating and ultimately unfulfilling practice of Perfectionism. Be a Yoga Purist, not a Yoga Perfectionist.