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.
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