Yoga is about feeling, emotion and experience, not about fitness and ‘strengthening the core’!

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Lovely first session of week 2 today. Numbers are steadily rising, and I’m starting to feel like a new community is beginning to form.

Today we did a nice 5 minute meditation at the end of the class. A lovely experience. I felt bright, clear and energised afterwards. My senses felt clearer, more tuned somehow.

There’s something very powerful about meditating together, in silence, in a group. With the eyes closed, you can feel the presence of everyone in the room, but everyone inhabits their own space. It’s a community of autonomous individuals.

I think this is what yoga is about – for me it’s got nothing to do with fitness or ‘strengthening your core’ and all that. My advice is to go to a good gym for that -I love going to Ebor Gym where I’m a member!  Yoga wasn’t designed to be used in this way, despite all the marketing that might tell us otherwise pumped out on the internet. Reading The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad, a comprehensive survey of genuine scientific surveys conducted regarding yoga practice published in 2012, will tell you just how shaky the foundations are in terms of yoga as a fitness regime. And there’s lots of very good recent scholarship out there if you want to know more detail regarding the history of modern postural yoga practice – how hyper-physical, extreme practices such as Pattabhi Jois’ Astanga  developed – see here. There’s also a good amount of documentation regarding the culture of injury resulting from these kind of practices – the work of Matthew Remski is a fine example – see here for a link to a great video on the psycho-social themes of injury in extreme asana practice. Modern gyms have well qualified staff who understand the body and biomechanics better than most yoga teachers I’ve met, and can help to increase strength and cardiovascular fitness safely and efficiently.

No, for me, yoga is about emotion, feeling, and experience. It’s got everything to do with how we use ourselves, how we relate to our body and sense of embodied experience. It’s connected to the ‘use of the self’, to steal a phrase from FM Alexander; how we use ourselves moment to moment, day to day, and how we feel inhabiting our bodies. Giving care and attention to our embodied sense of self on a daily basis is a very powerful thing.

Just to ‘be’, in a social group, is important – without the sense that you have to achieve, or push, or develop anything, or perform in anyway. Yoga for me is about unlocking the power of just being in the moment, and waking up to how good that can feel. As such, it’s about creating the conditions that can enable us to perceive what’s already there, under the surface, rather than offering visions of perfection, attainable only if you sign up and ‘commit’, work hard and make a big ‘effort’.

There’s nothing wrong with any of us, and we don’t need to work at our abs or our core, or become stronger, in order to be good.  We can do that, we can train our bodies if we want, and it’s great to be fit and healthy, but we were already OK in the first place. We need to start from a position of ‘OKayness’, if you get what I mean. And be wary of those that sell anything through an initial premise of imperfection.

My position is that by making small adjustments in the way we feel about ourselves in our own bodies, we can make very significant changes in the way we feel. It’s some kind of alchemy in the relationship between mind and body that, through a gentle and caring approach to asana (posture) practice and meditation, can flick a switch in our consciousness, and change the way we feel. It’s very simple, it doesn’t require any massive effort, any special equipment or clothes, or any special skill set or physical capacity. You just have to do it – to make the exploration on a regular basis –  get up in the morning, do some simple postures, a little meditation, breath, direct your attention, and then see how you feel. If you do, then you’ll start to get results. It’s very simple, and it’s also very profound.

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