We know there’s so much more to Yoga than the physical aspects, but with overwhelming emphasis now placed upon asana (the physical yoga postures), there must be something deeper we can learn from twisting, sweating balancing and back-bending ourselves into shape, surely? Good news, there is; when we practice on the mat to help ourselves to feel good, we each have an opportunity to spread the peace and positivity we cultivate on the mat to everyone and everything around us….
So, let’s work our way through a well-rounded practice and see what each family of postures really teaches us.
1. Standing Poses
These postures help us literally ‘find our feet’; everything in life needs firm foundations in order to stay strong! If we can cultivate the courage of virabhadrasana one and two (warrior one and two), and stand our ground when life knocks us sideways, we begin to feel more powerful, and can more readily stand up for our truth and our beliefs.
2. Balancing Poses
Balancing encourages us to focus, and brings us squarely into the present moment. We can’t hold a steady garudasana (eagle pose) if we’re worrying about what happened yesterday, or what might happen tomorrow. Bringing this sense of being completely present into life helps us actually live, experiencing each moment exactly for what it is. Just like balancing postures though, this takes a lot of practice to maintain for any length of time.
These exhilarating postures teach us to really open up! All too often we shut ourselves off emotionally from the world around us, guarding and closing our heart space. Backbends can help open up the energetic heart, aiding us in being kind and compassionate towards others.
Twisting teaches us to let go! Often thought of as ‘detoxing’, as they massage the internal organs and squeeze and stimulate movement in the digestive system, twists can be a useful lesson in letting go of what no longer serves us. Is there anything ‘toxic’ in your life you’re still clinging to? Negative thought patterns, relationships, or an unfulfilling work life? Recognise what needs squeezing out of your life, and let it go…
5. Hip Openers
These asanas teach us to breathe through it when times get tough. Ever been in a yoga class and the teacher has asked you to ‘breathe into it’ when you’re practicing hip openers like eka pada raj kapotasana (pigeon pose)? Our hips are our emotional center and if tightness is an issue, it’s likely there’s a lot of stored tension in there. When we learn to breathe into what we find, and to accept the emotional difficulties we may face in life, we become stronger, more resilient, and more open to helping others through tough times.
6. Forward Folds
The act of folding forward teaches us the art of surrendering. No matter how tempting it is to grab your toes in paschimottanasana (seated forward fold, or stretching of the west); forcing and pushing is never going to allow the body to open up naturally and safely. When we have the humility and understanding to surrender to the things we can’t change right at this moment, we open ourselves up to the endless opportunities that could happen. Letting go of the need to be better than the person next to us – in life and on the mat – shows us the reality of the situation, and leads us towards a greater acceptance of just what is.
Conquer your fears! Probably the biggest metaphor for taking our practice off the mat is the work we do with inversions. Handstand and headstand (urdhva mukha vrksasana and sirsasana) teach us to trust ourselves and edge past the limiting voice of fear. Outside our comfort zone is where we grow – the next time you face a scary situation, trust yourself and take the leap….
Amongst all of the world’s craziness, and the endless whirling and busy-ness that surrounds us, can we cultivate peace and stillness within our own lives and radiate that peace out to others?
Our practice on the mat isn't just about helping ourselves, it’s about helping the world too.