Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Yoga Moments

As a yoga teacher I am often telling my students that you can build a yoga practice on five minutes a day.  With just five minutes of yoga a day, a few salutations in the morning or a couple of basic stretches you can start to gain the benefits, the physical ease and peace of mind that yoga can give.  From my experience that will feel so good that soon your practice will grow of itself to ten, then fifteen, then twenty minutes a day and hey presto you have yourself a yoga practice.  As easy as that.  The key is just to start small and without any sense of expectation and to just let it happen.  But if five minutes a day is a challenge, and I recognize it can be, start smaller -- start with a few scattered moments and see how it goes from there.  Here’s how you can squeeze those moments in on a typical working day.

Yoga moment 1:  While driving turn down the radio and focus on the breath. Just watch the inhalation and the exhalation for a few seconds.  Nothing more.  Afterwards turn the radio up and sing.

Yoga moment 2:  While in the bathroom washing your hands watch the sensation of the hands.  Be in the absolute moment and feel the water washing over the hands.  Practice perfect awareness for just for a second then dry your hands and go back to work.

Yoga moments 3 and 4:  Hold the back of your office chair and twist slowly to the right.  Lift out of the abdomen and make sure the twist is coming from the base of the spine.  Hold for 5 deep breaths and then repeat on the other side.

Yoga moment 5:  Watch the reactions of your mind to a negative situation. Don’t get caught up in the emotions, just step back and watch the mind as it casts about looking for fuel for the fire.  Watch how the emotional flames will die if you do not give them energy.

Yoga moment 6:  At the end of the day place your buttocks against the wall and forward bend.  Just hang.  This can be done in high heels and abiya – no problem.  Just rest there letting all the bad energy drain out.  Stand up slowly, sigh, and go home feeling refreshed.

Yoga moment 7:  While being with your children, friends or partner give them 100% of your attention.  Be with them and listen to them totally.  Don’t think of anything else. Try it for five full minutes.

Yoga moment 8:  Enjoy your household chores.  Appreciate them as acts of giving and pay attention to the details of completing them.

Yoga moment 9:  Take a bath and relax.  Feel the body grow heavy in the bath and watch the breath as it softens. 

Yoga moment 10:  Watch as you start to fall asleep.  Watch and try to identify that very last moment between sleep and wakefulness. 

These exercises are not just random practices but represent the very core of yoga, which more then anything else is about being in the moment and using the breath as a tool for calming and easing the mind.  Like the five minute practice they may grow of themselves if you just let them be and allow them to take effect.  If you start with yoga moments you may find that you wake up wanting yoga stretches and the process will continue.  Just remember to take it as it comes and to take a yoga moment of acceptance if it comes slower then you wish.  Good luck.  Namaste.

(Previously publishhed in Women Today, Doha, Qatar)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Love the way you think

A hundred and fifty years ago when modern yoga started to evolve the revolutionary gurus of the time recognized a number of different things.  Firstly they recognized that aspects of yoga could be presented outside of the Hindu guru tradition to a general population, including most scandalously women and foreigners. Secondly, they realized that some of the techniques of yoga could be related to the universal human desire for health and happiness. To understand what a departure this was just imagine the ancient yogis shivering in their loin clothes in the caves of Tibet and we can be sure that their priority was not personal health and happiness. Yet this is exactly what yoga has to offer us now – a series of tools to build a lasting self acceptance and the health, happiness, and self love which results from that.    

The most well known of all yoga practices are, of course, the asanas.  Asanas can be practiced either as part of a vigorous flowing series or as gentle stretching exercises but in both cases they can ease the body of pain, help us to feel good about ourselves physically and contribute to our general sense of well being.  As useful as asanas are however it is the breathing practices, the observation techniques and the meditations that go with the physical practices that have the most benefit in terms of developing self acceptance and ultimately self love.  In yoga we talk about the ‘sankaras’ which are basically the negative trains of thought we can get into.  All of us have experienced this – replaying arguments, past hurts, personal injustices for days, months even sometimes years.  We repeat negative mantras to ourselves--I’m fat, I’m not good enough, I am not loved enough.  There is nothing, nothing, that is more destructive to our wellbeing and the possibility of self acceptance then these destructive thoughts. 

Yet when we practice yoga a big part of what we do is to observe and finally try to still the mind so that we do not become victims to these negative thoughts.  In yoga we treat the mind just like another muscle or organ of the body, something that we can exercise control over.  Ultimately we aspire to settle it and to change the direction of negative thoughts.  The tools for this are simple.  Watch the breath, watch the thoughts that come up, but do not get involved in them--just watch them and let them pass like sounds in the night.  By watching dispassionately the thought waves of the mind we start to slowly let them go and when we let go of negative thinking we can open ourselves up to experiencing and accepting and loving who we truly are.  There is no need for caves, or special diets or even asanas to practice this.  Just sit, breath, watch, allow.  The rest will come of itself. 

Previously published in Women Today