You’ve decided that yoga is something you definitely must try. You’ve read an article, or seen a social media post about the benefits of yoga and you’ve YouTubed a great looking routine.
You start to follow the YouTube routine and you find that it’s ok but not necessarily all that some people have been saying it is. It’s a little like a HIIT routine particularly with the Sun Salutation movement. It definitely got you sweaty and your heart was pounding so it must have been a good workout.
For many people, yoga is simply a set of postures and movements and in that context yoga can be a good workout. It is even better if you are coordinating breath with movement – but that’s pretty much like most exercise. It might be that you decide you want to meditate or at least practice mindfulness meditation. But you find that after a while your mind just wonders off. And anyway, how can you fit this all into your busy life ?
Yoga has had some superb PR. For those of who have been exploring yoga for ever, the profusion of beautiful, twisty, bendy yoga Instagrammers and Youtubers along with the fabulous and positive posts on Twitter and Facebook have served to present yoga and the various aspects of yoga like meditation and breathing as gymnastics, or perhaps as a work of art or performance, or for some a panacea or a life saver. It’s true that it can be and for some, it has been a life saver. Last night a yogi certainly did save my life – and yes it continues to enrich my life. But I am not just referring to postures, or breathing, or even meditational practices. There is so much more to yoga than this and there is something in the yoga toolkit for everyone. And by this I mean that there are yoga practices that you can grab depending on how you are and how or even who you want to be.
Press the pause button
The key to this is to press the pause button. Stop everything and go and lay down somewhere, preferably on a mat or a carpet. And preferably in warm clothing, and somewhere reasonably warm. Get comfortable. The yogis like a pose called savasana which is laying like a corpse. But take it easy, you’re not dead and the aim is simply to relax, and allow space and time to grow in this moment. This is what I mean by pressing the pause button. Let the world and all of its’ hurley burley stop for a while.
Now you’ve stopped and you are hopefully more relaxed, at ease, and comfortable, you can begin to assess what aspect of yoga is the right one for you today.
This pause enables you to assess yourself first too. You could do this assessment sitting down in a chair, or even standing up, but you’ll get a clearer and fuller picture when you lay down.
Self assessment protocol
This self assessment starts with your body. Ask yourself how am I ? Observe how the body is and note anything that arises. For example you may notice you are holding tension, or perhaps have a sense of lethargy. You may feel restless or fidgety. Don’t beat yourself up, just note whats happening with your body. Some people like to mentally work around the body say, starting with the toes on one foot and then rotate around the entire body to end with the toes on the other foot. Some people like the idea of a body scan – imagining a body scanner scanning the length of the body. For others, it is more physical, perhaps contracting and relaxing each body part as they go around the body. All the time, however, we are noting how the body and the various parts of the body are.
Then we observe our breathing. We note how our respiration is, for example is it full or shallow, fast or slow, are we mouth breathers or nose breathers. Are we even aware of our breathing pattern? The simple act of noting our breathing often allows us to begin to slow it down and access a more relaxed state. It may be that we cannot do that. Perhaps our mind is active and our breathing is quick and shallow. We can try to relax the breath but perhaps we need to observe our mind.
So we go to our mind. This is what I call “thinking about thinking”. We simply observe our thoughts. Maybe we have none. Or maybe we have a maelstrom of thoughts. We might be quite scattered in our thoughts or we might be very focused. Simply observe and don’t judge. Recognise that you are human and that this is what it is to be human. We note how our thoughts are, but if the whirling state of thoughts disturbs us we can return to the breath and focus on the breathing to help still the thoughts. For some, just simply observing the thoughts can be a revelation. In one class, somehow said to me that they hadn’t realised that they could simply observe their thoughts and it was astonishing that they could separate their thoughts from their self. “So you mean, we can begin to sift through the helpful and unhelpful thoughts and dispense with those thoughts that aren’t helping me?” she said. I reflected that this is the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – and yes, we are not our thoughts. It is moments like this that are truly revelatory and transformational. It is why I advocate laying down and doing nothing but checking in with ourself.
It’s useful now to ask “how am I?” and “what are my energy levels like?”. Perhaps we are hyperactive, or maybe we are sluggish. Maybe we are somewhere in between: feeling balanced or perhaps on the sliding scale – either side of that.
It may well be that for many, this is enough. This is Yoga – Act 1, Scene 1. But while the adverts are still playing and while you are here, you may begin to consider what sort of yoga will work with your current state of body, breath, mind, energy. Remember the 2nd Yoga Club Rule is “start where you are” and this is exactly what we are advocating here. Now you know how you are – the question is – “how do you wish to be?”.
With an awareness of how you wish to be, you can begin to consider using what is in the “yoga bag of tricks” to help you achieve this. But for now, just enjoy these moments of relaxing, taking time out, pressing the pause button on the demands and expectations that surround you, and give yourself some valuable time.