Archive for September 2011

Thoughts on Yoga and Horses…

I’ve known Shaaron for many years but only recently started taking yoga classes with her. At first the poses seemed so foreign to me, and I wondered if I’d ever get the hang of it. In my third lesson she said, “Learning yoga is like training wild horses. It doesn’t happen in one day. It takes time and coaxing and patience.” At that moment I realized how similar yoga actually is to my sport, riding:
Each breath in yoga is like one stride on my horse;
Just as I must listen to my horse, I must listen to my body, my mind, and my teacher;
It takes tiny steps forward, regular practice, and many years to master.
In both riding and yoga, sometimes you’re pushed a little beyond your comfort level, but your teacher won’t ask you to do anything she doesn’t absolutely believe you can do;
Eventually you have to let go and trust.

Riding a horse is an exercise in integrating two separate beings. It takes many years and many small steps to create a balanced partnership. Yoga seeks to integrate the body and the mind; by quieting the mind and stretching the body beyond its normal range, we can synchronize these aspects of ourselves that can become so disjointed they often feel like separate beings.
When I’m riding I’m not thinking about my bank account, the list of chores waiting for me, or any of the petty worries that cause me stress and anxiety. My mind becomes peaceful. I realized between poses that yoga with Shaaron that my mind had found a similar quiet, one that I can carry with me the rest of the day.

Cathy and  her horse Tuxedo

Cathy and Tuxedo

written and submitted by Allied Yoga student Cathy Robb

Categories : life perspectives

“Automaticity” (wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automaticity) comes with training, and the yogic world is not an exception to
this rule: the more one practices postures (āsanas), the more common it is to
operate on a “pilot mode” when stepping on the yoga mat after some experience
within this world. In the same way that one begins to acquaint oneself with
any new activity—stage at which the highest possible degree of attention is
needed—the practice of āsanas also asks for full concentration. A task like
cooking, for example, presents the same challenge. We start with the basics:
chopping the ingredients that will be used for a dish, but in order to successfully
execute a recipe—that is, in order to produce a dish without cutting one’s finger
in the process—one must focus on every move of the knife. In a parallel way,
preventing injuries in yoga will depend on how mindful we are while performing
āsanas. As mastery is gained on the yoga mat, automaticity can result in
distraction or even in the absence of the mind. When automaticity comes along,
one begins to wonder how to stay present in the here and now.

To be truly present in an asana, we must first comprehend what this yogic
category really is. Following Iyengar’s translation of Patañjali,1 “Āsana is perfect
firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit”. In the
execution of Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I pose), for example, this definition
prescribes more than merely following physical instructions, such as “bend[ing]
the front knee over the ankle and bring[ing] the arms along side the ears”.
Physical instructions are not enough to achieve a pose; attention of the mind
and spiritual presence are also essential components to a good execution, as
Patañjali points out.

Below are a few strategies to help keep full attention during yogic practices:

Question the reasons why you do yoga: Some of the reasons might
include “staying fit”, “to release stress”, “the search for peace or enlightment”,
etc. Regardless of finding the “right answer” to why you practice yoga, try to
listen to the questions that arise in your mind as you breathe, and dismiss any
preconceptions you may have about it. Let yourself discover new parameters in
your own questioning process. Enquiring on your reasons can potentially awaken
your own attentiveness.

Cultivate patience and dismiss your expectations of immediate results:
On occasion, re-directing attention back to the body during a certain posture
may not happen as fast as you would like. The more we strive for reaching this
goal, the further away we get from it. Be patient and do not expect changes to
happen immediately. The body is more likely to respond to patient and steady
instructions than to aggressive and inattentive commands.

Challenge yourself to change your habitual practice:
Attend new classes or practice with unknown instructors, or try different
sequences and yoga styles. As practitioners, we tend to attach to certain
spaces, hours and/or conditions to do yoga. Get out of the box and explore other
possibilities. Chances are that after trying something new you will go back to your
usual practice with a renewed vision of yoga—and even if you don’t, at least you
will have tried something new!

Observe negative and judgmental thoughts: Humans tend to judge
themselves after acting. In doing āsanas, try to balance negative thoughts with
positive ones—your postures are probably better than what you think they
are. Then, let go of any judgements you might have constructed about your
performance altogether. In order to attain steadiness of mind one must release
thoughts that interrupt concentration.

Bring a pre-set intention before you begin your practice: Benevolence of
spirit (one of Patañjali’s precepts) is hard to reach if you do not offer your practice
to a higher cause. Set yourself an intention (i.e., becoming an instrument of
peace, offering help to someone in need, getting closer to God, etc.) before
you start your session, and let that intention guide your practice. Maintaining an
inspired and creative heart is as essential to staying mindful in your āsana as are
your own physical movements.

Cooking and yoga demand our full attention, not only to prevent injuries from
happening but also to bring flavor and grace to our actions.

Namaste,

Santiago Hernández

Santiago is a chef and teaches Slow Flow class at Allied Yoga

Santiago in chataranga dandasana

Santi in chataranga dandasana

footnote 1: Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, Sūtra II.46.