The Art and Science of Yoga

We need to fall in love with our yoga practice.

When we fall in love with someone there is no effort required to engage with our beloved.  We don’t need to persuade, coerce or bribe ourselves.  And being with the beloved connects us with that place inside ourselves where life feels sweet.

So how can we fall in love with our yoga so that getting ourselves to practice is no longer a struggle?

These thoughts came to me during my practice this morning.  Along with this entire blog, which simply downloaded itself as I slowly stretched and twisted and breathed.  Suddenly it was crystal clear – yoga is both a science and an art.  This is of course not a novel idea, but somehow my morning practice infused it with new meaning – and that is what I’d like to share with you.

Looking at yoga as a science is useful.   Poses can be endlessly ‘broken down’ to study which muscles, joints or organs are benefitting. Thousands of studies have proven yoga’s efficacy in helping to relieve countless issues, be they physical or mental/emotional.  Laboratory tests can isolate which parts of the brain light up during meditation or while practising pranayama.

But if we focus too much on this scientific view our practice may become simply a form of exercise – be it hot and sweaty and super challenging, or slow and stretchy and super relaxing (or indeed a combo) – our yoga is in danger of being somewhat mechanical.  Something we do, as opposed to something we become.  Benefits still pile up, no doubt.  But we may be depriving ourselves of yoga’s sweetest gift – the very essence of yoga – that deep inner connection with ourselves and the divine.

Artists on the other hand lose themselves in their art.  They merge with that which is pouring forth from them.  Time stands still.  Once ‘in the zone’ each note of music or stroke of the paintbrush leads effortlessly and instinctively to the next.  The thinking mind falls silent.  Creativity needs no plan – it gives birth to its own unique structure.

And this is what ‘yoga as art’ means to me.  We step onto the mat and silently allow the body to lead the way.

Can we can give up the need to control?  Quieten that annoying little voice in our heads that won’t shut up and keeps wanting to tell us what we ought to be doing.  Or wondering what we should be doing first……. and then what next….?

When we close our eyes, even briefly, and tune into our breath, all that is needed is to let go.  Remaining still until the impulse to move is strong.  Following that impulse and allowing one movement or pose to simply and naturally lead us to the next.  Like a dance, or a song, our practice will find its own rythmn and it will lead us deep into ourselves.  Into stillness.

And just in case that doesn’t sound tempting enough, be assured that by practising your yoga as an art form you will be enhancing all the scientific aspects of the practice at the same time.  When we are still and quiet, and approaching our practice from the inside out (as opposed to the outside in, where we try to impose sequences or alignment rules on our bodies by outer instruction rather than by sensation within the body) our bodies instinctively seek balance and harmony.

The same concept applies when in class being guided by a teacher.  Our focus may be somewhat outward at certain times as we watch and listen to instruction, but the ‘doing’ of the poses is the same.  From the inside out, even while following principles of alignment or reminders to breathe.

So whether you are struggling to find the ‘discipline’ within yourself to attend classes or to do your own home practice, falling in love with your yoga will effortlessly lead you to your mat.

 

The road to happiness

Growing Younger - Help for would-be meditators

From the time we learn to speak we are told how we should and should not be, what we should or should not believe to be true, how we should and should not behave.  Small wonder we grow up conflicted, confused, insecure, guilty.  So what can we do?  How can we find that elusive thing called happiness….. and if we do – how can we make it our default setting? 

Spiritual exercises such as yoga, meditation and religious rituals  would like to be the answer. And often claim to be the way.  But are they?   Chances are, despite all your best efforts, you will have to admit you are still swimming along with the rest of us in an ocean of self doubt and insecurity.  If you are still judging yourself or concerned about the impression you make on others, feeling guilty about any past actions or relationships or harbouring any other negative images of yourself or the world, it’s no big deal.  This is where we all live.

And yet  all the masters and saints and yogis tell us that our true nature is radiant bliss.  They assure us that we are eternal beings, peaceful, compassionate and joyful beyond measure.   How can we begin to fathom what they mean? [Read more…]

Are older yoga teachers the best yoga teachers?

Sue GrbicThis article of mine was published in The Yoga Lunchbox on the 21st October 2013.  Hope you enjoy it!

‘So many younger people are taking to yoga these days as opposed to thirty years ago when I was cutting my teeth as a student and yoga was still considered way too esoteric for your average citizen.

And what an assortment of choices on the yoga menu today!

Back in the day you were either an Iyengar student (and this was truly cutting edge) or doing what my teacher somewhat disdainfully and condescendingly called ‘fruit salad’ yoga (or old lady’s yoga).

Nowadays there’s a dizzying confusion of yoga ‘styles’ to choose from.

 And precisely because yoga is attracting so many young people, hundreds of young yoga teachers are emerging and trying to get established.

I started teaching when I was forty-five, pretty old by today’s yoga teacher standards.  I’m now in my early sixties so I guess that makes me really old by today’s reckoning!

So how do I manage to compete with the flood of gorgeous young things, all of whom look a whole lot sexier than me?  And who may well be able to bend and stretch and pivot and hold and reach rather better than me? [Read more…]

The most powerful intention in the world

“I Release and my Heart is at Peace”Welcome To Growing Younger

When I first heard these words, spoken as a centering thought at the beginning of a meditation by Deepak Chopra, I was caught by their rhythm and the fact that they slotted together so well.  I now realize that the strength of this little sentence lies in its construction.  The fact that it is so simple, and that the two ideas rhyme makes it so easy to remember and repeat.  (Do you, like me, often read or hear affirmations that you like and then promptly forget them?)

The more I think about my new little mantra the deeper I go. It’s uses are endless.

If it bubbles up when I am anxious I feel my shoulders relax, my breath exhale and my heart let go.  If it pops into my mind when I am getting irritated, my jaw softens, my eyes quieten and the irritation dissolves.  If I recall it when I’m trying to maintain control of a situation I feel my whole body take a breather and my mind settle down. [Read more…]

Could this be you or me at 95?

95 year old yoga teacherThis amazing lady seems to have earned herself the title of ‘The World’s Oldest Yoga Teacher’.  Now I’m not going to comment on that except to say I have no doubt that countries other that the USA would certainly be able to put up their own candidates.  I would be far more comfortable with the title ‘America’s Oldest etc”  However there is no getting away from the fact – this is one inspirational woman. It’s simply astonishing how physically agile and strong she is at 95, but it’s her shining joie-de-vivre that appeals most to me.  Take a look at this link.

Taken by Surprise

Growing Younger - Please Contact Us To Find Out MoreI went to a 70th birthday party recently. My first.   Looking around the room crowded with conservatively dressed, neatly coiffured strangers I wondered what I was doing there.  Surely I had walked in on the wrong do.  These people all looked old enough to be my parents.  In fact my late grandmother came to mind too, with her neat twin sets and costume jewellery.

What little mechanism is in our heads that makes everyone  get older except us?  (Other than kids we don’t see for years at a time and then we are extremely puzzled as to where they went and who these young adults are that have stepped into their shoes.)  The big shock usually comes the first time we catch an unexpected glance in the mirror, having had no chance to arrange ourselves properly, and we see our mother (or father?) looking back. [Read more…]