By Kel Fox
Sarah is helping with the Dru Yoga Teacher Training this weekend, so once again I have commandeered the blog 😉 And I have a question for you:
What is yoga, when you’re not doing yoga? I think any students of Dru would agree that yoga is not just an hour a week in a class. If you let it, yoga becomes a way of being.
If I go for a walk, I let yoga be part of that. Yoga is engaging my core when I stand up and slip on my shoes. Yoga is standing tall, spine long and upright, as I walk out the door. Yoga is feeling my legs swinging in alignment, under my hips as I walk. Yoga is keeping soft knees as I transfer my weight from one foot to the other. Yoga is allowing my neck, shoulders and arms to be relaxed and free. Yoga is breathing with my diaphragm, feeling the cool autumn air wash into my lungs and replenish my bloodstream. Yoga is releasing the spent air to make space for the next breath in. Yoga is noticing how I am feeling, right now. Yoga is noticing how I am thinking. Yoga is letting those feelings and thoughts be transmuted as I appreciate the beauty of the blue sky, a soft breeze and the gardens of my neighbours. Yoga is being in my centre, balanced: physically, mentally and emotionally.
In my experience, yoga is absolutely something that comes off the mat with you and follows you into the office, when you sit upright in your chair. It follows you into the kitchen, when you bend down to get a plate out of the cupboard. It follows you into the garden, when you squat or kneel to do some weeding. Every movement is aligning and realigning the body, and every movement can be done from the core, with strength and stability and balance. When I dance, I often find that I am struggling with a particular step, only to find that the reason is I wasn’t balanced on the step before it. Every movement starts with balance. One step follows another, and every step must be balanced.
The idea of starting with balance can then be applied to other layers of being. When I go to say or write something, am I mentally balanced? Or am I frustrated, fed up, tired, distracted or thinking about something different? Yoga is a mental point: I am here. I am not thinking about anything else. From this word or thought, I move to the next one. I ought not to jump from a thought about this task, to a thought about calling my brother, to a thought about dinner, then to another job I have to do. If I do that (and I’m not saying I haven’t!) I will quickly become mentally exhausted because staying on your feet when you’re struggling for balance and windmilling your arms is tiring. Consider the phrase ‘collecting your thoughts’: it is simply being balanced, not teetering all over the mental plane of everything you have to think about. Find where you are, and centre yourself. One thought follows another.
Once mental balance is achieved, emotional balance is easier. It is about response, and where that response comes from. If I respond to something someone says to me when I am already in a place of excessive negative or positive emotion, I am not balanced. I do not believe it is a good thing to be 100% happy all the time. I think the modern quest for eternal happiness is causing many of the problems in Western mental health. It is important to know the extent of your happiness, and know the extent of your sadness, and then find out where you are in the middle, because that is where you are calm. There is nothing wrong with any emotional state in itself: being able to experience joy, sorrow, anger, fear, love and excitement is what makes us feel alive and real. But all of these states require some energy from us, and they are not sustainable long term. The problem is when we cannot find our calm, peaceful place of neutrality, we have to keep putting energy into the emotion we are stuck in. We have to keep feeding the happiness with external things, and it loses its realness. We have to keep feeding sadness or anger by ruminating on past events, and are no longer truly feeling what is happening to us now. The key is to know that we can, at any time, come back to centre, and indeed we must: to go from one emotion to another, we must first come back to centre.
Now we are centred, physically, which was really just a tactile lesson so we could centre ourselves mentally. Now we are collected in thought, we can centre ourselves emotionally. Now we are balanced. Now we can know bliss. Now yoga is our way of being.
What is your experience of yoga as a way of being?