3 Reasons We Forget to Get on the Mat

 

  1. We’re too busy.  This one is the most obvious, and in many cases, the most untrue.  Sure, our lives can feel quite full, but unless you have young children, chances are that you have time for some asana, but are just putting other things first.  I do this all the time.  There’s always another distraction or entertaining bit of consumption waiting for us in this modern world.  With services like Youtube putting out more minutes of new video per day than there are minutes in a human life, there is no danger of running out of distractions.

    Ultimately, however, this one comes down to priorities, focus, and remembrance.  Is our health more important to us than the latest viral video?  For me, my body says yes, but my behaviour often tells a different story.  When I’m focused, however, instead of just putting my attention on the next item in my social media feed, there is the possibility that I’ll remember my priorities and change my behaviour.There is a mental parallel as well.  It’s not hard to catch ourselves putting our bodies in postures while our minds are elsewhere.  The business of life can keep us off the mat, or keep us from being present when we’re on the mat.  It is our ability to put the business of life to the side and focus on ourselves which is the supportive core of our practice.

     

  2. Our bodies are sore.  Now, this particular reason can run the gamut from justified reason to justifying our own laziness.  Barring some kind of injury needing actual rest, however, will asana improve your overall physical experience?  Yoga asana has a way of bringing us to the edge of our discomfort, so it’s no surprise that an engaged practice may lead to some physical soreness, but it is also the case that doing regular asana actual helps the body become stronger and more limber, both of which decrease pain over the long term.Ultimately, this one comes down to honouring one’s current condition, and being honest with ourselves about the nature of our pain, and our resistance to pain.  This plays out on the mat as well.  Knowing the difference between the discomfort that can arise when rubbing up against a personal boundary and the pain that arises when attempting to cross a physical boundary is key to establishing a physically supportive practice.

    The mental parallel here is around honouring our mental and emotional pain.  Asana is a wonderful tool, but all tools have both purpose and limitation.  Sometimes that laziness might be something deeper that needs to be brought to light, and to that end, forcing ourselves onto the mat is not a sure-fire approach to our well-being.  The only person capable of knowing the right course of action is you, at that moment.  You can plan to get on the mat, but never put the plans of yesterday above your current reality.

     

  3. It’s too hard to stay motivated.  This is one I experience a lot.  When our motivation is flagging, getting on the mat can seem like too much effort.  Once on the mat, your challenging postures might also seem too much effort.  Holding postures for your normal duration may seem like too much effort. This is really a fair point.  We didn’t evolve to do focused exercise for the sake of it, but to have it physicality integrated in the way we live.  Pushing ourselves to get on the mat when we’re neither busy nor hurt still takes a considerable act of willpower, especially when we’re not grounded in the practice or a routine.This is where asana classes can be helpful.  In a class setting, we can surrender our will to the teacher, and let them be the driving force which motivates us.  With their support, we tend to be more willing to get into challenging postures and to hold postures for longer periods of time.  Even people with a strong home practice can get tremendous benefit from asana classes, as teachers can often give useful feedback on your progress, or even give you variations to improve the efficacy of postures that you’ve stopped finding engaging.

    The mental parallel is subtle.  Asana classes, for all the good they can offer us, aren’t at all useful if we don’t attend them, and attending a class is even more effort than just doing one’s personal practice.  This is where money comes into play.  We’re much more likely to do something if we’d paid for it in advance.  This is part of the reasoning for why we offer 10-class passes and monthly passes.  Having that output of energy is a commitment that we make to our future selves to push through the inertia and fluctuations of willpower and make good on our intentions.  In a way, we’re allowing our past self to exert upon our future self the kind of influence that a teacher in the context of the class does.

     

    Michael

Ask a Yoga Teacher…

Q:  Why would I want to do Yoga?

A: If you suffer from any kind of anxiety, tension or stress in your life, Yoga has been shown, and is in my experience, an effective way of processing stress, leading to an increased sense of well-being and relaxation.

Q:  Aren’t you just saying that because you’re a Yoga teacher?

A:  I’m a Yoga teacher because I believe the things I’ve said.  I was a Yoga student before becoming a teacher.  I chose to become a teacher because I believe in the benefits of the practice.

Q:  Why do you charge for Yoga then?

A:  Hopefully you understand that, as a teacher, I still require the means to meet my expenses, to buy food and pay rent.  We hope that our students value relaxation and everything else that the practice offers such that they are happy to support us in our work by paying the class fees.  Ultimately, our goal with The Be Happy Yoga Project is to meet our own basic needs and offer Yoga to those who cannot pay for it.  Our project isn’t striving for profitability in excess of its running costs.  The money from students that are able to pay enables others without the means to take classes.  As of right now, we are teaching more hours to people who aren’t able to pay than to those that are.  We are happy to offer to Yoga to anyone who is interested in learning and we are hoping that over time we will also be able to sustain ourselves through our work.

Q: Isn’t Yoga for people who are already flexible?

A:  That’s like saying that going to school is only for people who are already knowledgeable.  We don’t send children to school because they already know the answers and want to create a space for them to enjoy already having knowledge.  School is a place for growth.  The Yoga class is no different.

Q:  Won’t I just feel out of place, surrounded by young flexible people?

A:  You may, but therein lies an opportunity to practice not just the Yoga of the body but of the mind as well.  Dealing with emotions and thoughts which make you feel uncomfortable as they arise is part of what we learn on the mat.  Just as we often put our bodies into new and sometimes uncomfortable positions in order to stretch ourselves, so we can also stretch ourselves cognitively and emotionally.  Sitting with discomfort is one of the most fundamentally useful parts of the Yoga practice, and arguably the one that provides the most long-term benefits in terms of stress-management and general quality of life.  As we get older, discomfort tends to become a greater part of our experience.

Q:  Isn’t that a depressing way to look at it?

A:  Acknowledging the truth of ageing is neutral.  Now, how one approaches that truth can be empowering or not.  Taking a proactive stance on developing a positive attitude and in learning to cope with and even benefit from discomfort is the opposite of depressing.  It is ultimately about understanding what you can and can’t control and taking responsibility for the former while surrendering to the latter.

Q:  How is Yoga different from Pilates?

A:  Pilates can be an amazing physical practice, which has a lot of applications for both general and therapeutic use.  Yoga’s primary focus, however, is not with the physical body.  The physical body, and the postures, are a means to approach a deeper understanding of the self, to bring unity to the disparate aspects of our being.  To the extent that we tend to identify with our personality and our problems, we can become quite disconnected from the body.  Many of our day to day concerns in this modern age are quite abstracted, such as economic woes, political issues, questions and concerns around our social standing, etc.  As a physical practice, Yoga is very good at increasing one’s proprioceptive awareness, allowing one to become more deeply present to the body and its various components.  The practice, as we teach it, is designed around bringing one’s awareness to the sensations and experience of the physical body as we take action to improve our general health.

Q:  But how does stretching the body cause changes in the mind?

A:  Like a lot of physical practices, when doing Yoga, you will encounter barriers, points where you cannot easily progress or perform the action you are attempting.  For a lot of women, strength tends to become a blocking point before flexibility, and for a lot of men the opposite is true.  Through repeated practice, however, we eventually develop the needed qualities to progress further in our practice.  This act of breaking through barriers is reflected in the cognitive practice which is going on alongside.  For my own part, unlocking new potentials in the body has definitely unlocked aspects of my mind.  Moreover, as with the mind, the body has hidden depths.  When you do finally progress with whichever posture you’ve been working on, you will still find a barrier.  Perhaps as your strength improves, you are able to move the body into a position where your flexibility becomes the new limiting factor.  Again, this mirrors the process of meditation in which each new insight, or new surrender, reveals new areas to expand awareness into.

Q:  Couldn’t I get the same effect from another exercise or dance class or something else entirely?

A:  Yes.  Of course.  Yoga does not specifically refer to the physical practice of Hatha Yoga.  The process of integrating aspects of oneself previously hidden can be done in a variety of settings and activities.  You don’t have to use a Yoga mat to do Yoga.  If you feel especially drawn to dance, or rock climbing, or whatever, by all means, do those.  In the meantime, there’s no reason not to the give the physical practice of Yoga asana (physical postures) a try.  If you don’t like it, or it doesn’t meet your needs, you aren’t required to do it again.

Q:  What is different about asana (yoga postures) then?

A:  Asana, as a practice, emphasises a balance of relaxation and effort, using set postures to allow the practitioner to develop a stillness that isn’t as emphasised in, say dance.  Through repetition of the same posture, asana gives the practitioner a very still and solid base through which to explore their body, and the inter-relationship of tension and relaxation.  Take shoulderstand.  In shoulderstand, there are very specific muscles that are required to stay tense.  Were you to relax them, you’d immediately fall out of the posture.  At the same time, there are a great number of muscles which don’t need to be tense.  Through repetition, you begin to develop that proprioceptive awareness which enables you to only tense the muscles which the posture requires.  For people who are just developing a sense of proprioceptive awareness, asana is perhaps a safer and slower way to develop that awareness than circus arts, or dance.

Michael

 

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