Yoga is a technique to make me feel at home in my body. Modern life, and by extension modern contemporary yoga, is so dependent on one’s physical and cultural context, personal values and lifestyles. Yoga is about having a highly functional internal space that can house all those facets of my life. I seek to achieve this by simplifying, refining and slowing down. Through my study and exploration of yoga for over a decade and in particular Katonah Yoga over the past year or so, I have come to view my body as my home. Yoga is akin to good housekeeping. Energy flows well in an organised space. Modern life seems to go by so fast and can demand so much, so when I come home, I want an environment that embraces me, brings me calm & flows well. It takes effort to keep things clutter free, clean and tidy. Through my practice I make that effort so I can embrace the shelter and comfort in my first and most important home. For the first time in quite while, I can say 'Welcome Home'.
I write this post in the second trimester of my third pregnancy. Yoga has been an invaluable practice during all three of my pregnancies. As a pre-natal yoga teacher, my aim is to offer women tools and techniques to empower them as women and mothers during pregnancy, birth and maybe even beyond. The yoga mat, whether in the comfort of your home or in a studio, is a safe space to explore the relationship with your changing body and your baby. To meet yourself exactly where you are. The pregnancy yoga mat is not a place to impose a lofty ideal of how to grow your baby, to birth your baby, to feed your baby, to raise your child. Women are empowered through knowledge and respect for their choices. Too many women feel under immense pressure to get everything right during all stages of motherhood. Too many women feel like they are failing because their reality bares little resemblance to the ideal they have heard about, read about and seen through the filtered lens of a social media feed. Yoga teachers please be careful of your words. They can be far reaching. I had two spontaneous, complication free, vaginal births and my breastfeeding journey was successful. I hope that will be the case again. But that was my experience. Mine alone. We can work towards maximising the chances of success for women in the choices that they make during their pregnancy and birth. Prenatal yoga is an excellent technique to achieve this but it must always be offered in the context of the reality of the women's own experience. It is no one's business but hers. This is particularly apt as we near the end of world mental health awareness week.
Things Change. Everything evolves.
My practice and teaching has changed so much over the past decade. The teaching always stems from my own practice otherwise it feels disingenuous. What you need at 25 is very different to what you need at 35 so it makes sense that what I teach and how I teach has evolved.
What has changed?
My asana teaching is more about structure, stability and longevity than continuous flow. I still flow a little. But I need the time to refine and slow down. I embraced the idea conforming to an archetype rather than always making it personal. This approach has been transformational. I have changed. This method is achieved through facilitation not force. When the body changes, the mind changes. There is no division. For the longest time I was playing to my physical strengths and they eventually became my weak points. All of the niggly injuries have gone. Completely.
I don't do as much yin yoga anymore. I found it created chronic instability in my pelvic area which was exasperated by pregnancy. I have pretty good body awareness and I can tune into sensation and can refine the intensity of the pose but it just doesn't work for me anymore. On an energetic and meditative level yin certainly has its benefits but the negative physical impact was starting to outweigh the benefits. Yoga is about balance and the yin practice despite my concurrent yang practices was pushing me too far off centre.
I have learned the beauty of letting the work speak for itself. I usually bring a theme into my classes but sometimes trying to manufacture an outcome is counterproductive. Just doing the doing and refining and developing technique is far more cathartic than working backwards from a idealised outcome. The inner teacher comes to the fore when the focus is embodiment, precision and awareness.
You don't know what you don't know until you do. With new information you realise where the gaps were. Scientific knowledge on the body and the effect that yoga and meditation has on the brain evolves everyday. Teaching has to evolve. Nothing stays static.
Breathwork is the key to everything.
And not everyone likes change but that is part of life.
If you scroll through yoga inspired social media profiles you might assume that yogis rarely walk on their feet anymore. Handstands are ubiquitous and often seen as the measure of a 'proper' yogi. Ask a new student what their yoga goal is and it is usually handstand. Away from the wall. But let's be honest most yogis, both practitioners and teachers, don't practice handstand. If you scroll through yoga inspired social media profiles you might assume that yogis rarely walk on their feet anymore. Handstands are ubiquitous and often seen as the measure of a 'proper' yogi. Ask a new student what their yoga goal is and it is usually handstand. Away from the wall. But let's be honest most yogis, both practitioners and teachers, don't practice handstand. Some of those shots are stills from videos where you might have held the pose for a fraction of a second. Or they have a spotter who has been cropped out of the shot. I have no problem with people posting pictures of handstands. It takes an enormous amount of dedication, strength and skill to be a prolific handstander. It is unfortunate that a snapshot in time does not capture that reality.
I am not a handstander. I attempt it every so often, get bored, and tired and stop. Feel the fear and do it anyway is the mantra of many. But to be honest I feel the fear and skip the handstand. Going upside down scares me. It is not an irrational fear. If I fall I can get hurt. I don't want to smash my face on the floor. Inversions are an important part of the yoga practice. But there are many alternatives to handstand that are just as effective and in many cases better because you are relaxed while doing them - child's pose, downward dog, dolphin, wide legged forward bends, headstand prep to name but a few. If you are afraid, skip it. If you are tense, skip it. It is bores you, skip it. If it is important to you to master this pose and you are prepared to put the work in, then go for it. Most people however are not in a physical place to include handstand in their practice. If you have chronically tight shoulders and thoracic spine, tight hamstrings, weak wrists, hypermobility in the elbows or poor core strength then there is a lot of preparation to be done before even attempting handstand. Maybe even years of preparation. Nevermind holding it in the middle of the room. If you feel the fear and want to do it anyway, that's grand but if you feel the fear and do an alternative that's fine too. Everything is optional.
Picture: Refinery 29
Depending on the yoga lineage your practice follows, physical alignment is afforded varying degrees of importance. For some, it is everything. For others, it has vague relevance. Most will agree that it is the foundation on which we build a practice. Yoga is the language. Alignment is the grammar. It is a bit like learning Latin. We learn the rules and through the application of those rules we have the basics to learn many languages. Alignment principles apply to all types of yoga, whatever its origin. But there comes a time which things need to become more fluent with less thinking. More fluid. Yoga isn't meant to be rigid. When you think of an infant brain, a baby learns language through immersion. Through experience. Through the realisation that there are many different ways to communicate a common idea. Children do not deconstruct and reconstruct sentences when learning to speak. They absorb and organically start to express themselves. The rules are learned through doing. To speak the language of yoga fluently maybe we should stop looking at it with an adult brain. We put too much emphasis on the rules and less on the freedom of expression that the physical practice affords us. It becomes too intellectual. Yoga should be about doing, living, being. You do not have to be a professor of linguistics to speak a language fluently. Grammar is important but do we really need to able deconstruct and label every part of a sentence in order to speak? Sometimes we just need to listen and respond. Making yourself understood is enough. With understanding comes fluency.