Learning Resilience (Part One)

Learning Resilience (Part One)

by Michael Texeira

Estimated reading time: 6-10 minutes

The modern world asks a lot of us. No longer is life as simple as chopping wood and carrying water, hunting and foraging.  While the movement away from a simple and highly physical life means we are generally under less physical stress, it does mean we have to deal with a much greater amount of mental stress. This is compounded by a culture of comfort in which we are told repeatedly through advertisements to want more, and that happiness arises from getting what we want. Yet, the economic reality is that despite wanting more, many of us can afford less. It is no surprise that diagnoses of mental illness have been on the rise for decades. In order to understand how to develop resilience in modern life, however, we first have to understand the ways in which we fail to.

Where We Are Weak

There’s a common saying in the West, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  Apart from the dubious implication that lemons are somehow an unpleasant fruit, the saying itself encapsulates the core idea of emotional resilience.  Life is, after all, a series of gains and losses, accord and discord. Most adults have long since realised that you can’t control everything so that only good things happen to you.  When we say someone is acting childishly, what we really mean is that they’re failing to expect, account for, and adequately handle the aspects of their life that they don’t like and can’t control.

In the digital and social world, however, it appears that we have cast such citric wisdom away.  Outrage has become the order of the day through the rise of digital media and the reach and anonymity it provides. The internet has become a toxic place that many use to condemn total strangers for their unproven opinions if in conflict with their own. On platforms like Instagram we elevate people to celebrity status, while on Twitter we pull them down when they too are exposed as human beings, capable of ignorance, bad behaviour, and unpopular opinions.

This becomes a self-reinforcing habit, as we begin to seek out reasons to be outraged, getting neurological hits of pleasure when we self-righteously go down the digital warpath.  Each action undertaken from outrage not only makes the internet a less pleasant place for us, but usually comes with anger, an emotion which places stress upon our hearts and vascular system. Most of the time we do not know the people we are angry at, nor get to see them change. While anger leading to change can be functional, this form of internet dog-piling without direct connection and empathy for the other rarely leads to change in the other. Anger without catharsis triggers us to repeat the behaviour without resulting in the social payoff that the behaviour was evolved to produce. It is not only modern social interactions which are failing to provide their required function, however.

In the economic world, we see the demise of community as more and more economic activity is done entirely through faceless corporations.  Small local businesses flounder and fail, and many people have never had a conversation with the people next door or down the hall. Our neighbours and local businesses are inherently invested in our shared environment and it being an environment worth occupying. In contrast, large corporations have no inherent stake in the wellbeing of our communities. 

Instead of putting their profits back into local infrastructure, many use their wealth to avoid taxes that support the infrastructure they rely on, and to reward their executives, regardless of success. On top of that, the free market economic model which neo-liberalism aspires to promotes specialised labour and systems. Work is often repetitive leaving people little opportunity or incentive to build new skills. This specialisation creates systems which are fundamentally complacent and incapable of predicting or responding effectively to quick or large changes that affect their foundations.

The majority of people rely so heavily on the economic model for their survival that they cannot allow themselves to question it. Our livelihoods are extremely fragile, able to be disrupted by minor economic changes. The economic model itself, ideally an extension of the real economy of goods and services and in service to the common good, also has toxic elements. The largest economic actors are increasingly finding ways to benefit from the infrastructure of the commons without paying back into the pot. The wealth of the richest individuals dwarfs that of the majority. Instead of providing a level-playing field through an agreed-upon medium for exchange, the model has become warped into a means for those with a disproportionately large percentage of the wealth to further extract value from the earth and people around them. Yet, more than just the economy is being distorted by complacency.

In the physical world, we spend more and more of our lives seated or reclined, our spines passively moulding around our sofas and office chairs.  This passivity permeates our lives. We increasingly turn to processed foods as a means to fit nutrition into our busy alternating schedules of repetitive labour and the passive consumption of entertainment. Many people grow up never learning to cook nourishing food, let alone spending time on a farm, connecting to the living earth and the cycles which underlie the cling-film wrapped offerings at the local supermarket. There are even fewer who could point to a local edible plant while walking through a field. Our passivity is such that our connection to the natural processes which feed us seems to be continually diminishing. We sit and we consume, passively allowing the easiest options to mould and inform us.

When teaching hatha yoga, it is startling to see just how physically weak many people in our society are.  It is, however, unsurprising, as modern society has oriented the means of production towards making our lives as easy and free of physical effort as possible. Where the very effort of survival in days long past would have kept us strong, flexible, and knowledgeable about our environment, we are now free to be weak, stiff, and ignorant.

Machines do much of the work of building, we can largely curate our immediate spaces to require little movement, and we increasingly allow the internet to know things for us. Whether or not we are conscious of this, there is a deeper recognition of our shortcomings and disconnection, which we experience as general stress and anxiety. We can liken this to the stress of getting a task or job in which we lack the tools to succeed. In this case, the task is thriving in the physical world. Stress and anxiety can then compound our weakness and difficulty in making the changes to our lives that would allow us to grow more capable. We know that feeling strong, mobile, and knowledgeable instills a sense of positive self worth, and yet, many of us in the modern world ignore this, preferring to live in denial of our weaknesses rather than face up to the difficulty of making changes.

As ecological and economic forces seem poised to throw the structural basis of our Western lifestyle into disarray, it’s sobering to see just how unprepared we are for the potential changes on the horizon.  While some will stockpile supplies, most of us have no lasting plan for what to do should those supplies run out, no deeper understanding of how we might replenish them, or build the means to create new systems of production. To face widespread change with grace and adaptability requires a skill that our grandparents took for granted, but which modern social infrastructure has largely rendered optional.  We need to develop resilience.

We Have Hidden Strength

McMillan’s online dictionary (online being likely the only format of dictionary many of the younger generation have access to in their home) gives us two definitions for resilience.


  • someone’s ability to become healthy, happy, or strong again after an illness, disappointment, or other problem
  • the ability of a substance or object to return to its original shape after being bent, stretched, or pressed


Both definitions give us insight into what we’re lacking in the modern world.  The second definition can give us insight into the first using the lens of anatomy and the lessons we learn on the yoga mat.

Our capacity as animals to adapt to our environments is rooted primarily in the complexity of our neurological system. Our brains process massive amounts of information, most of it unconsciously, and provide us with the information we need to navigate a world rife with predators, obstacles, and shifts in the environment. In order to make use of this information, however, we have to be able to react to the environment that we are receiving information about.  The bridge between the information and the action is our spinal cord, and surrounding the spinal cord is perhaps the most innately resilient large structure in our body, the column of mutually supportive bones and connective tissue that make up the spine itself.

In Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews’ book ‘Yoga Anatomy’, there is an entire chapter dedicated to looking at the evolutionary roots and mechanical properties of the spine. To sum it up, the spine is the product of the evolutionary drive to protect this bridge between the brain and the body as evolutionary forces changed from the aquatic to the land bound to the bipedal. As humans, our spines are tremendously complex and uniquely specialized as a result of our bipedal motion. The curvature of our spine reflects the gravitational forces that act upon a standing, walking primate.

Despite being the most ungainly animal on the planet, top-heavy and unstable, we nevertheless thrive thanks to the range of motion afforded us by our incredibly adaptable spine. What makes the spine so tremendously resilient is the way it distributes and responds to the forces which are applied to it, dispersing energy (within limits) by using connective tissue to provide internal tension and compressibility to its structure. I highly recommend the above book for a wonderful breakdown of the anatomy of the spine within a yogic framework.

It is telling that so many of us in the modern world suffer from postural problems and back pain.  Despite the resilient nature of the spine (its tendency to automatically return to a neutral position once pressures and tensions are released), our spines are increasingly suffering from issues which stem from our behavioural choices. Regarding the resilience of the spine as a primary form of support in the core, Kaminoff and Matthews note that, ‘when this support asserts itself, it is always because some extraneous muscular effort has ceased to obstruct it.’ (p. 43) We are the antagonists preventing the spine’s resilience from asserting itself, when we hold ourselves in unnatural postures for long periods of time.

Not all postures are maintained directly through our conscious actions. In the case of the spine being passively moulded by a slumped position on a couch, we are not choosing to slouch. Our slouch is the result of inaction and inattention, not noticing discomfort being caused by our environment. Similar distortion can be caused by a posture we’re passively lounging in, or a group of friends or family that we adapt our ideas and behaviours to, or our jobs.  If you feel physically, emotionally or ethically uncomfortable in your context whenever you allow yourself to bring attention to it (instead of distracting yourself with television or personal drama, for example), then your context may be unsuitable for maintaining healthy physical, mental, or emotional resilience.

What we can take away from this is that we are built to be resilient.  We shouldn’t have to learn or try to be resilient. A billion plus years of evolution in hostile environments has already cemented the capacity for resilience deep into our DNA and the structures that it builds. The problem appears to be that we actively choose to put ourselves in situations where that resilience cannot express itself. We entertain ideas, ideologies, and behaviours that disrupt and obstruct this innate capacity. Of course, for most of us, these behaviours don’t feel like choices at all, but expressions of who we are. How can we choose something when we aren’t even aware that a choice exists? I’ll look at how the pervasive influences of identity and social programming inhibit our resilience in the next post.

To be continued…

Free community yoga courses 2018

Free community yoga courses 2018

Michael and I are super happy to announce that we have funding to run more free community yoga courses in 2018. 

We are currently looking for charities and social enterprises to partner with.  If you work for an organisation you think might be interested, please get in touch for an informal chat.  If you know an organisation that you think might be a great match, please let us know too!

Over the last two years we’ve run courses in collaboration with:

LASS who provide services for people affected by HIV and Aids.

After 18 who provide support for unaccompanied asylum seekers.

Pride Without Borders, a support group for LGBT asylum seekers.

Home Group who, amongst other things, provide accommodation and services for ex-offenders.

Project Polska who provide activities to help Eastern European migrants integrate in the UK.

– Dani

New class fees policy

The Be Happy Yoga Project 

Class fees policy

There are two basic rates for all of our open yoga classes; one for people on low income (low income) and one for medium and above income (standard).

We ask you to be responsible for paying the appropriate fee as we accept everything on trust.  It can be difficult for people to judge where they fall on the spectrum financially, so we would ask you to take into account your unique individual circumstances.  For example, if you’re a retired person with a large pension and your own home, or a student whose parents pay all your living costs and provide a sizeable allowance, you’re probably not a concession. If you’re supporting other people financially on a modest income, you may be.  Another way of thinking about it might be to consider what you spend your income on each week.  If it is almost entirely made up of necessities, then you are probably the low income rate.  However, if you have plenty left over for entertainment, eating out at restaurants and buying luxuries then you would unlikely be.    

Some thoughts to bear in mind:

  • Classes have to be financially viable in order to take place.
  • This work is the way we make our living.
  • The giving and receiving of teaching is grounded in a balanced exchange of energies.
  • Among the ethical foundations of yoga are satya (honesty) and asteya (taking only what you need).

If you can realistically pay the full rate, please pay it. If you need the low income rate, then please take it.  We would always prefer you at the class paying the low income rate than not to have you there at all!

We are incredibly grateful to those of you who give the pay it forward rate as this enables those on low incomes to come to classes too!  Thank you.

Work exchange policy

If class fees are beyond your means, then it’s sometimes possible to arrange a work exchange. In this case we would ask you to make a commitment to the class and to the work. Please contact us to discuss if this is your situation. We may from time to time also invite individuals directly to participate in work exchange.

We are currently interested in work exchange with a professional photographer. 

Free community yoga courses

We offer a number of free community yoga courses each year aimed at marginalised groups.  Please contact us if you believe you fall within one of these groups and are interested in a place on one of these courses. 

Free 10 class passes

We understand that sometimes people are experiencing a difficult time in their lives physically, mentally and emotionally.  They may need yoga, but be unable to pay at all or feel that they have any energy to offer for a work exchange.  They may also not be categorised as in a marginalised group.  Please contact us directly if you are in this category as we may, from time to time, be able to offer free 10 classes for a small number of individuals who fit the above description.

Danielle & Michael

Ask a Yoga Teacher…

Our Ask a Yoga Teacher series continues with the following question.

Why don’t you play music during your yoga classes?

“While we know there are many people who enjoy listening to music while practising yoga asana, the lineage we are trained in makes a habit of keeping classes music-free.  This is partially to create a calm environment that is as inclusive as possible (not everyone likes the same kinds of music or is in the same place emotionally or mentally in each class), and partially because we believe that music has a great potential to distract our students from the teacher’s instructions, and from their own internal experience.  Not having music in class is, in many ways, very similar to keeping one’s eyes closed during the practice (which we continually suggest).  Having one less avenue for the senses to engage with, more energy is freed up.  While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that there are benefits to one’s mood that can arise from listening to a well-curated playlist, our classes are set in silence in the hope that you will bring that extra energy towards looking at the mind, and towards learning to change your mood without external props.  The mind does not like silence.  It wants to be engaged and entertained.  By attempting to keep the class without distraction, we hope to create a space for our students to engage instead with their mind, to get a taste of the meditation for which the yoga asanas are only a preparatory exercise.” – Michael



Ahimsa and me:  A real life story

Last week Michael wrote about ahimsa and it got me reflecting on my own messy, awkward attempts at trying to incorporate ahimsa (non-violence/non-harm) into my own life.  As I sit down to write this, I realise that I can’t avoid talking about my relationship with vegetarianism; more specifically my departure from a vegetarian lifestyle.  This feels very uncomfortable, because I know it will be a great disappointment to some people I hold very dear.

To set the context – Up till summer 2015, I had been vegetarian for around about ten years. There were a few years at the beginning where I called myself vegetarian, but would occasionally eat a bit of meat.  Not good quality meat and not with much/any thought of where it had been sourced from.  I’m afraid to say that I’m talking Sunday morning low-quality pork sausages from a greasy spoon in East Belfast.

Going to my yoga teacher training (October 2006) changed all that.  I resolved to be strictly vegetarian and I was – for a very short while!  I don’t remember when I went back to eating fish, but I don’t think it could have been very long.  Actually, only a cursory probe into my memory banks reveals at least one memory of eating a fish taco in Mexico, less than a month after my YTTC.  

I started to admit to myself that I was really pescetarian.  About 11 months after that first fish taco, I ate fish and chips at a renowned joint in St Ives.  An hour or so later, I had agonising abdominal cramps.  That was the sign from the universe that I needed –  (I was big into that at the time!) – and so I gave up fish as well as meat.

This continued on for years and years.  When I met my husband Michael (at the ashram where I had originally taken my YTTC) I had assumed he was vegetarian too.  We were committed yogis after all and since all the food at the ashram was vegetarian, the issue just never came up.  So I was genuinely horrified and angry to discover that he was a devoted omnivore with zero intention of giving up meat – again!  It’s up to him to tell his story, but he had been vegetarian and even raw vegan in the past, and he wasn’t anymore.
Read more…

On Ahimsa: Non-harming in a Harmful World

The first of the yamas is also the most difficult to attain to in many ways.  (For an introduction to the yamas and niyamas, please see our previous blog post.)  Ahimsa means to abstain from causing harm, and besides being difficult to live up to, is also difficult to fully comprehend.  How we understand harm and how we determine fault when harm inevitably arises are both cultural and deeply personal processes.

In order to better understand the concept, let’s look at it in its historical roots.  The concept itself appears in the Rig Veda, the oldest religious text still in use today.  In the Rig Veda, the concept is mentioned in reference to Indra, the god of thunder and warfare, being ‘innocent’ or peaceful towards his worshippers.

Despite being in a context entirely foreign to our modern lives, this idea of innocence is actually very revealing of the character and quality of ahimsa.  From a yogic perspective, ahimsa is not merely an ethical must, but, as with all the yamas and niyamas, a practice in itself designed to catapult the spiritual seeker further along the path.  The innocence of ahimsa is fundamental to its use as a practice, and as a metric for determining what is and is not ahimsa.

In the modern world we currently navigate, innocence is a hard ask.  The systems around us require savvy and the streets cannot abide a fool for long.  Nevertheless, the yogi intent upon self-realisation must maintain a sense of purity and connection with all beings, even should it put them at risk.  To the mind, this may seem insane.  We are taught from a young age to distrust strangers, maintain solid boundaries, read the fine print, and so on.

For the person who is not practicing ahimsa, these are all very important, but for the truly pure yogi (a rare thing indeed), it is understood to be unnecessary.  In the yogic worldview, we are all one being, with the separation between us being the effect of Maya, the illusion caused by the filtering of ultimate reality through the mechanisms of mind.  Being all one, the distinction between the internal and external is quite fuzzy.  It is sometimes said that a yogi who practices ahimsa perfectly will have no violence done to them, even by a hungry tiger.

Read more…

The Yamas and Niyamas: A Brief Overview Following a Long Digression

In modern culture, Yoga has largely become a by-word for a certain routine of stretching, exercise and relaxation, and little else.  Those who do Yoga casually may also know of the breathing exercises (pranayam), mudras, and possibly even kriyas (purification rites) and bandhas (energetic locks).  As in most aspects of life, what we know about our world, or the niches within that we’ve explored, has a tremendous amount to do with who our teachers have been.

In the context of a hatha yoga class, these above mentioned topics may or may not come up, depending on the depth to which the student pursues the topic, and the experience of the teacher.  I, for instance, have some limited understanding of bandhas but would not integrate them into my class, because my training didn’t include it, and because the potential for complications increases with the complexity of the tasks being given to the students.

Given that most people who come to a yoga class in the west pursue yoga asanas specifically, and experience it predominantly through the lens of teacher-led asana classes, it is not surprising that there is much that doesn’t fully enter the vocabulary of the new yoga student.  It is here that I will draw the fine line between the yoga student, and the sadhaka (spiritual seeker).  While the yoga student seeks out the more physical aspects of yoga for often quite materialistic reasons (to feel healthier, to lose weight, to cope with pain), the sadhaka approaches yoga from an internal compulsion to reach the heights of spiritual attainment.

Now, let me clear that this is not a value judgment.  One may no more make themselves a sadhaka than they can make themselves a musical virtuoso.  One may learn anything through great effort, but it is impossible to attain to the kind of internal and consistent drives that results from being born to something.  Moreover, whatever reason one comes to seek yoga, the practice has the potential to facilitate transformation regardless.  As in all things, the shape that the transformation will take will be the result of the motivation, intention, and application of disciplined will.

Regardless, only those who’ve inquired into yoga outside of the classroom, or who have particularly chatty and philosophically prone teachers, will have heard of the yamas and niyamas (with exceptions of course).  To sum it up briefly, the yamas and niyamas are the ‘dos’ and ‘do nots’ of classical Raja Yoga.  They represent the ground floor of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga (not be confused with the trademarked and codified techniques as created by K. Pattabhi Jois).

In following posts, I plan to delve into each of the five yamas and the five niyamas, examining them and how they fit into our modern lives, and to what extent we can attain to doctrinal adherence in our current society.  In each case, I intend to provide the background on the doctrinally pure attainment of each, and how one can find ways to integrate that into a world and a life which rarely makes room for absolutes.

It is almost certain that I will, through the course of my next ten works, say something that someone disagrees with.  It is impossible to please everyone, especially when discussing ancient doctrines and individual lifestyle choices.  As such, I beg that you understand these works as belonging wholly to me, and not being indicative of any truth beyond that of my personal experience and understanding, and to have compassion and remember that we’re all on the path exactly where we are.



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.



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.



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“But, I’m not flexible enough to do Yoga!”

A lot of people have a particular idea of what yoga is, whether it’s borne of modern yoga fashion with stretchy pants and young bendy people, or the esoteric yoga of ancient India with its renunciates, long hours in meditation and ultimate goal of liberation from the world.  Now, regardless of which of these you might think about when the word ‘yoga’ comes up in conversation, yoga is much bigger and broader than that.

At The Be Happy Yoga Project, we mostly concern ourselves with the physical practice of classical Hatha Yoga.  We do this because that is what we’ve been trained to teach, and because, for most of the people around us, it is the most relevant practice to serve as a jumping in point for yogic self-exploration.  

In the West, a great number of people are either disconnected from their bodies, walking around as floating heads, or connected to an idea of their bodies as strictly mechanical systems.  Our Western fitness regimes reflect this segregated way of looking at physical systems.  We have our ‘leg days’ and our ‘arm days’ and flexibility training, and endurance training.  We look at each physical system almost as an independent whole.  Yoga asks us to begin to look at our physical bodies as interconnected systems, as interdependent entities which can neither be separated from each other nor from our emotions and thoughts.  The physical practice of yoga asana (yogic postures), done with awareness in the present moment, has the potential to increase proprioception, and to increase one’s awareness of the relationship between thoughts, breath, and the habitual patterns of muscular tension which we’ve been practicing and maintaining throughout our lives.

Now, as yoga teachers, we hear the same reasons over and over again from people who are trying to explain why they cannot do yoga.  As our mission is to make yoga accessible to people who aren’t part of the general demographic, one of the most common remarks we hear is, “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.”  Now, as a yoga teacher, hearing this comment is more than a bit confusing.  Imagine a child saying to their primary school teacher, “I’m too ignorant for school.”  Yoga is not something that flexible people do, but something that increases the flexibility of those who do it.  In that sense, the less flexible you are, or the less strong you are, or the less present and calm you are, the greater the potential for yoga to be a transformative practice in your life.  In our experience as teachers, the beginners tend to get the most dramatic experience of life improvement from the practice.

So, if you put aside the idea that yoga is not for you, and recognise that, unless you’ve done it, you don’t really know what it is, what is stopping you from trying it?  Regardless of what your personal barriers are, if and when you are open to letting them go, get in touch with us and see if we can help you transition into a happier life.