Yoga + not Yoga -
Nearly the end of January already & hurrah say many of us: bring on Spring, earlier dawns & pay-day ;-)
As usual, over the last month, the lifestyle magazines, tv & radio health pundits & social media self-styled ‘wellbeing’ mavens have been after us to…
“undo the festive season! lose 10 pounds with these 10 simple tricks! wring out your organs with deep twists”…
Well, ouch is my response to that notion & more importantly, 'wringing out your organs' is not actually possible. Thankfully! 'Twisting our way to detox' is such a doolally suggestion & yet one that's often seen advertised in the Yoga world. Our liver is the ultimate & splendidly well-equipped organ of detoxification. We can help the liver do its vital & wonderful work by living a balanced lifestyle, including our Yoga practice, but let's not pretend to ourselves or others that we’re stretching, sweating & flexing our way to ‘cleaner' organs.
Yoga as a positive rather than a negating force is where its' magic lies. Developing a Yoga practice may well, over time, help us lead more balanced, healthy & enjoyable lifestyles. We may find that as a result of time spent on our mats, new thoughts & decisions arise that then help us shift our behaviour into a more healthful direction. Perhaps towards maintaining a stable & sustainable weight (for a healthy & delicious granola recipe, click here), towards achieving better mental clarity through meditation, towards improved sleep due to deeper diaphragmatic breathing & so much more.
But Yoga as a quick-fix instrument to blast fat, lose weight quickly & detox? In my opinion, that's a dangerous, misleading & undesirable shift in collective thinking about Yoga.
First of all, Yoga is not just about asana. There are eight (yes, 8!) ‘limbs’ to Yoga & asana (the physical poses) is only just one of these eight limbs.
Second of all, many of the by-now well-researched & demonstrated mind-body benefits of Yoga so often beautifully & necessarily rest on its ability to calm us, to centre us, to encourage us to come home to the breath, to foster acceptance of ourselves & to enquire deeper within ourselves & notably, beyond our mere bodies.
Third, why the cloaked self-flagellation? Why the implied criticism that you have been ‘bad’, that you’ve ingested ‘toxins’ & now you must ‘purge’?
That’s not Yoga. It’s certainly not ‘my’ Yoga, in my own practice or in my teaching. There is no kindness hidden in these admonishing advertisements. And kindness is such a crucial part of a Yoga practice; kindness for ourselves, for our fellow practitioners, for our students.
I love to move. I am probably happiest flying along on my bike, pedals furiously whirring, heart pumping, wind whistling in my ears. Equally, I adore running - the fresh air all around me, friends, fellow runners or even my dog by my side motivating me to keep going & wow, that happy ‘high’ when I finish a run.
Yoga? That is the other (& yet not other) side of the coin for me; as the saying goes in Thailand, 'same, same but different'. Even with a stronger Vinyasa practice or Ashtanga class, even when we build heat, use & strengthen our muscles & dare I say it, maybe break a sweat, it's very much still not about striving, pushing or straining. It’s about balancing effort with ease, silence with sound, movement with stillness. Even as one delves deeper into one's practice & even as more advanced poses enter one's repertoire, Yoga is always a moving meditation.
Whatever your practice, whatever class or style you’re trying or attending, notice your breath, notice your mind, notice at the end of class & even later on, how you really feel. Even or perhaps especially after a vigorous class, let’s not leave our mats feeling depleted, empty or somehow undone; let’s walk lightly away feeling more at ease, perhaps a little happier within ourselves & calmer, within & without.
Let’s think about our Yoga & how it can add to our lives rather than focussing on what it can take away.