How to bring Compassion into your yoga practise.
I have been dedicated to my practise of ashtanga yoga for over ten years and I can whole-heartily say it is a HUGE part of what keeps me calm, connected and energised (most of the time:). I know this because when I don't do my practise I can significantly feel the difference in a negative way. It is important to remember in our yoga asana practise to be mindful of our ever changing states. Every morning when I come to my mat, I am not the same person I was the day or week before. I am in the same body, but my body can feel different. I have the same mind, but my thoughts can be can be polar opposites to the day before. Some mornings I am bursting with energy and my limbs are strong and supple and I can easily twist myself into a pretzel. Other times I drag myself, feeling heavy and stiff and find it tricky to touch my toes. Being present and tuning into the other natural cycles that influence us such as the moon,our menstrual cycles and pregnancy can allow us to be more aware and get in touch with the greater interconnectedness of this life.
I believe it is important to honour the ebbs and flows of changing states when practising yoga and living life. On the days where you feel a little stiff, it is ok to take it easy, give yourself permission to go slowly and breathe deeply. If you are feeling good then take that extra step and dig a little deeper in the stretch or balance a little longer or even try that pose you have not gone for yet. Knowing when to move with our strengths is a part of how we grow. Either way at the end of the practice you will feel lighter and more grounded than before and it will bring you to the present moment.
Listening to our inner selves is a tool we can use throughout our life to take control of our health, happiness and help us fulfil our deepest desires and avoid situations that may bring harm to us. When you push yourself into "positions" that don't feel right, damage can be done. Doing something with force can be hard and against the grain. Whereas if you learn the balance of relaxing at the same time as being strong and using your breath, you will find your able to take yourself further than you believed possible.
It is also crucial to not compare yourself to others, in your practise or life! If you are a beginner remember that everyone started at sometime, so there is no need to feel inferior or embarrassed. We all have different makeup and what one body can do with ease, the other body may not. The guy with the big arms maybe able to do handstands with ease, while the slim young girl may be able to bend like a stretchy band or visa versa! No benefit comes from comparison to others because it distracts us from our own uniqueness and the aim of the game to still our mind and go internally to connect with pure consciousness.
In my experience yoga has taught me to
Let it go... let go of attachment and trying to get to a destination and let it be.
Breathe and connect and the flow will take you naturally.
Believe and trust in yourself and your ability will often surprise you.
Be grateful for my body, my teachers, my life.
It is important to remember that the asana practise of yoga is not the only aspect in yoga. There are "8 Limbs" of yoga and they are all valuable to cultivating compassion and peace in your life and will help you to be the best person you can be. They do not discriminate between religions and can be followed by everyone to increase wellbeing and remove suffering. I am a big believer that this will then improve lives around you!
The first four limbs-yama, niyama, asana and pranayama are known as the external practices.
The second four limbs- pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi are known as the internal practices.
To give you a moral and ethical foundation that focuses on restraining your actions to not harm others. You can extend these to every area of your life-including what you eat and purchase.
Ahisma: nonviolence Satya: truthfulness Asteya: non-stealing Brahmacharya: continence Aparigraha: not being greedy
Ensuring you undertake self discipline and dedicate time to spiritual development.
Saucha: cleanliness Samtosa: contentment Tapas: self discipline Svadhyaya: self study Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God or the supreme cosmic energy. (this can be an individual perception)
Āsana means ‘comfortable, steady seat,' ultimately to be able to sit in lotus and meditate comfortably without distractions can be a result of the physical yoga classes. Physically asanas can improve the flow of prana (breathe and energy), release toxins, improve blood circulation and lymphatic drainage, release tension in your muscles and increases strength and flexibility.
Prāṇāyāma refers to breath control techniques designed to nourish the whole person, body and mind. When practiced correctly, over time, prāṇayāma cultivates a calm and focused mind and a higher state of awareness.
Withdrawal of our senses. It is important to take sometime each day to draw away from the external world, to turn off your electronic devices and go internal, close your eyes and be. Overtime, with consistent practice, prātyahāra will happen effortlessly during yoga practice with the internal flow of energy.
Dhāraṇā is ‘to hold’. Holding the mind on one object of concentration cultivates focus. The object of concentration can be external or something internal such as the breath or a mantra. On the mat each asana has a specific drishti; a point of focus to help with balance and to focus and still the mind into a deep state of concentration.
Dhyāna is the state of meditation, when you stop identifying with your thoughts and the fluctuations of the mind.
To transcend the "self" altogether. When all mental activity stops and you become ‘one’ with the Universe, then there is samādhi; enlightenment. You are pure consciousness that exists in us all. The divine presence that is you and all around you. Yes, this is esoteric and deep but why not be open to it!