I was away in India over Easter, and enjoyed taking my movement practice outside and being warm! Daily sea swimming, beach running & walking, as well as outdoor yoga and my own inventions of strength training-using rocks as weights, feet/ankle/ balancing work on handy branches and boulders (possibly to the amusement of more relaxed holiday makers!)
I spent some time hatching yoga teaching plans and reflecting on the benefits of yoga as part of a healthy movement diet. What does yoga offer us that is unique compared to other forms of movement? What kinds of movement practices are complementary to avoid repetitive strain, unnecessary wear-and-tear and to promote sustainable, life enhancing range of movement?
It seems to me that yoga is most effective as part of a varied movement-rich lifestyle, as it can create repetitive strain issues just as sports or other physical activities can do. To counter this, some focus on strength training is useful if you do yoga (even though yoga does develop strength, it isn’t always well-balanced), and yoga is useful if you do a sport requiring strength. It is for good reason that you find so many top flight athletes doing yoga these days in addition to their other training.
Check out this inspiring video of one man’s quest to stay supremely mentally and physically active and well. If you’re interested in varied movement, ageing well and having a good memory.
My garden will not look the same!
Variety is great, but I do also think yoga offers us something unique. Yoga is a wonderful, all-round physical wellbeing practice – developing a combination of body awareness, strength, agility, and greater fluidity in movement. But yoga is so much more than just the exercise or fitness part, or a chance to relax at the end of class.
The key difference with yoga is that it is holistic and it starts with the goal of awareness, which requires the cultivation of ‘presence’ (ie.to be present) and compassion. What do I mean by this? Well, we use breath and movement to focus on what we can feel, the sensations and felt experience of the body, right? This leads us to the experience of body, mind (emotions and thoughts) and heart, (intuition wisdom and love) as a continuously interacting, integrated whole of this living thing called a human being….Even if it’s just for a moment here and there, when you find yourself moving with your breath rhythm, focussed, quiet and aware of being more ‘in your body’, feeling it with more connection and sensitivity than in your day-to-day life, then there might just a moment of, “ ah, I’m right here”. You are fully present. Does that make sense to you? And of course you have this kind of embodied experience in all kinds of activities, not necessarily movement based.
In everyday life, the mind often takes over and directs us into limited, restricting, busy patterns of thinking and we forget that we are this wholeness, which we can experience as a sense of ‘presence’. So, focussing on the felt sensations in our body as we move is a way of experiencing ourselves in the present moment, which is ‘grounding’. Being grounded is the pathway to access more balance in the nervous system (between stress response and calm) and more skilful responsiveness.
In essence, it is a good place from which to navigate all that comes up in a complex human life, not to ‘go with the flow’ but respond within the flow with greater skill. We cannot control what happens, but we can control to how we experience it, how much ‘presence’ we bring to it and how we respond.
The connection to ourselves through the body and breath in yoga reminds us who we really are: a living, breathing part of a much larger web of life. Awareness helps us to move from that expansiveness.
I think we sense this practice of wholeness affecting us positively and rippling through our lives, which is why we get on the mat!
“The mysteries of the soul are revealed through the movements of the body” Michelangelo
P.S. The photo is from the wonderful place I found in Goa where I may be returning to run yoga retreats. If a back-to-nature peaceful break on the beach in Goa might interest you, make sure you are signed up to my newsletter. More info soon!