With all that said, there should be something for everyone, so enjoy these thoughts about yoga.
Yoga: Much More Than a Downward-Facing DogIn Western Culture, yoga is often a term only used to reference physical poses. In actuality, it is much bigger than that. In this culture, we've selected some of the pieces that we most need from spiritual traditions like yoga (in this case, mindfulness and exercise) and kind of forgotten the rest. So I want to honor that the word "yoga" refers to much bigger traditions than what is currently happening on most yoga mats. That doesn't denigrate the work people are doing on their mats and in yoga studios. Instead it may be an invitation to you to explore yoga even more fully such as studying the Bhagavad Gita or getting involved in a complete yoga tradition. Because as wonderful as it is to get to know your body and your energy through yoga, there's even more here to discover in a yoga tradition. And if you are completely new to yoga, I think this can be really helpful to put the postures into a broader context. This is also really helpful if you are really new to spirituality in general, which may be the case even if you are in a spiritual awakening.
The Awakened Body Knows What It WantsI have so much love and respect for body wisdom. There is so much inside of us, and most of Western Society badly needs to start listening. It's more than just, "I want to eat now" or "I want to go for a walk." It's not a mindless dog. Our bodies are actually very mindful aspects of ourselves, and they doesn't need quite as much management as our minds think. Could you imagine what it would be like if we actually had to tell our hearts to beat, our lungs to breath, or our immune system to fight off diseases? Millions of activities are going on right under out skin every day, and it makes you start to really appreciate the miracle of good health.
In awakening, this body awareness can get heightened like no other. That's often why people go through dramatic changes in diet and body shape. Potentially for the first time ever, they are now listening to what their body actually wants. This is, unfortunately, often fought by the mind, which still believes that drinking beer and eating hot dogs is what it really needs. The inner resistance from the mind is often one of the stickiest things for people to work out. But it can be done, and as you drop more deeply into your awakened awareness, you will become clearer about what your needs are, especially in exercise and movement.
Mindfully Moving, Not Creating a Body ShapeUnfortunately again, yoga has also become a trendy way to get in shape. This tends to be more so for women, but there are still plenty of men doing super crazy power yoga stuff. That's fine. But I want to emphasize more conscious ways to use yoga and to let go of goals and ideas around it. Conscious yoga practices are about moving the body in ways that are healthful, healing, and helpful. It is not about achieving a body shape, losing weight, gaining muscle, or anything else. The body may become more pretty/handsome from a cultural standpoint, but that's not interesting to an awakened consciousness. It wants to move to be in alignment with spirit and to be healthy. In the awakened awareness, yoga can be a particularly powerful tool to heal issues and to open further to the energy that is now freely flowing. For those of you who have read my "How to Grow Your Garden" post, it's like digging rows for this water to be absorbed (I'm not sure that I used awakening as water in that metaphor, but you get the idea: you need to make space for the energy to be in your life).
With that in mind, I strongly encourage you to have had a yoga teacher or get a yoga video with proper instruction. Because yoga has become a fad, a lot of people aren't doing it with the right mindset and/or are doing poses improperly. I don't want any of you to hurt yourselves, and I certainly don't want you to come with the intention to force yourself through an issue that is still stuck in your body. The point is to be gentle and consistent and to learn to be with mild to moderate discomfort at times. This mindful movement can create space to release an issue that's in your body (say it's a deep rooted trauma or a general issue with your family) in a healthy way.
Picking Postures and Staying With the DiscomfortI've often heard yoga teachers talk about leaning into a pose when it gets difficult. If you've got a strong understanding of yoga, you will understand what I mean. There are times when you have to simply be with the discomfort in your body when you're working with a pose. I think in awakening, this is particularly important. You can't run from yourself anyway. If you feel like there's a lot going on in your hips, pick a few hip opener poses to do. Build up to them by working the muscles around them, and then do the full series throughout the day and as you need them. In creating a self-guided yoga practice, you can come back to these poses throughout the day. I've had a lot of success with this for myself.
It also can get you out of the more regimented idea of having an hour long yoga session that goes a certain way. I am assuming as I write this that you've already done that. If you haven't, I really encourage you to do that first and regularly before doing what I'm suggesting to do in this spirituality blog post. As I said, I want you to take care of yourself, and this post is intended for a little bit more experienced audience.
Breathing Into Intense Moments in Spiritual AwakeningAs my regular readers may have noticed, I'm always telling you to keep breathing. It really helps out a lot, because...well you have to live. And it helps to diffuse fear and other issues that come up when life gets difficult. If you've developed a personal series for working with your hips, when you get into the more difficult postures, breathing is even more essential. Difficult postures make us want to lose our breath. If we can't breath very well, then it is okay to step back from the intensity to gather ourselves. That, too, is like the breath. We go deeply into a posture, and then we go out of it. In and out. Finding our own natural rhythm. And we're listening to our bodies all the time. We're listening, and sometimes, we won't "hear" that release that we hoped for. That's okay. All issues release on their own schedule. All you can do is to have patience, persistence, and good self-discipline. Especially if you feel like you have no energy at all, five or ten or fifteen minutes of yoga can make all the difference. A lack of energy often indicates a big blockage, and even if it means doing yoga for five minutes and crying the whole time, that does help to start aligning the body and energy together.
As I said, you don't have to do it all at one shot. So five minutes here and there throughout the day can start to slowly nibble away and erode a big issue (and if it really is that big, I encourage you to find more outside support to help your energy move it).
And Then the Release and the Rush of EnergyAs I've mentioned in other posts like "The Process of Releasing Pain From Your Energy Body," the release of energy from behind a blockage is awesome. It's amazing. You feel lighter, energized, and more expansive than ever before. It's like someone just lifted an elephant off of your shoulders that you had no idea you'd been carrying your WHOLE life. Sometimes, it's not that dramatic. But you get my drift. It's like you've come out of a darkened hallway, and there is all this light. "Wow. I had no idea I was living in a dungeon."
This is part of the gift that yoga can give often in tandem with other spiritual practices, and it is the gift of receiving more of you. That's right...you. Awakening isn't an external life force coming to take us over. It's no invader. It's actually us. It's all the parts of us that we cut off and put in little boxes or kicked out of the house because we were told that we could not be that way. Worst of all, we believed that lie. So here you are having a big homecoming, and you're trying to beat down your own door to get in. Yoga helps you to open the doors. With a self-guided yoga practice, you can take yoga to the next step by making a practice tailored specific to your needs and lasting only as long as you need it. The rush of the normal yoga high that people experience gets added on to in awakening, and that can be such a wonderfully rewarding feeling. It is the feeling of getting to be even more of you, and who would ever want to say no to a gift like that?
Today's lovely photo comes from my friend and reader, Becky Stiller. Please feel free to check out her beautiful work on this flickr link.