With this little article, I wish to give you a perspective on Yoga that you may not have heard so much about. Yoga has become quite mainstream over the past one or two decades and we can see people of all ages and walks of life going into yoga classes. The intentions for beginners are usually quite similar: Wanting to feel more relaxed and balanced in daily life, wanting to feel more fit or release pains and tensions in the body.
The physical practice of Yoga certainly has the ability to support us in this endeavour. However, one thing that might get overlooked, is:
Yoga can serve as a multi-level mirror for our inner world. Practicing the physical yogic exercises in a mindful way, meaning the conscious use of breath coupled with mindful movement, can confront us directly with our emotional, mental and physical world.
And unfortunately, this is sometimes not so comfortable.
Our society and lifestyle is quite ignorant of our human needs that support true health.
What are these needs? There are certainly a few but for the sake of this article I will name these:
- Healthy movement
- Authentic relationships
- The breath and emotions
- “Real” food
Let’s look at these needs and how they play into our experience of Yoga.
1. Healthy movement:
Unfortunately, most of us work in jobs that demand us to ignore the body's needs of sufficient, playful and healthy movement. Jobs often include long hours of sitting, standing or heavy physical work. Playful movement, the way that children are showing us beautifully, is not the daily norm for adults. We strain away at long working hours and maybe try to compensate by going for runs, swimming, going to the gym, etc. These activities are certainly useful but often lack one powerful component: The conscious use of breath and the observation of its impacts on our psychosomatic state.
Yoga has the ability to bring us deeper into our bodies. I personally think that a somewhat physically demanding yoga practice, coupled with stretching and ample rest at the end is a good practice. We cannot generalize of course, as each person carries their own individual history and needs within their body.
2. The breath and emotions:
The breath is one of the things in our body that happens unconsciously and can be directed consciously as well. So when we start breathing consciously, things from the unconscious parts of our body-mind can come up. What are these “things”?
They can be memories, feelings or thoughts that we suppress in our daily lives due to adapting to given circumstances. This brings me to the point of…
3. Authentic relationships:
What does authenticity even mean? According to what I can find when googling on the internet, it means to be true to one's values and beliefs and to stand by them, even in face of adversity. Okay.
I have more to add.
I believe that authenticity includes being true to one's innermost self.
And this is where it gets tricky.
Our innermost self is often hidden, even from ourselves. If we have spent many years adapting to our surroundings and to the demands that our current societal standards make, we have likely suppressed large aspects of our “true” self. We tend to suppress our true feelings, needs and viewpoints. We do this to be accepted by our parents, spouses, partners, friends, bosses and co-workers.
Dr. Gabor Maté emphasizes the importance of authenticity for our mental, emotional and therefore physical health. He shows in his research that many common ailments and illnesses are linked to a lack of authenticity and true expression of needs.
Can you relate? Do you know people or situations in your life where you feel like you are not expressing your true voice or needs? Do you say yes when you mean no?
So how can Yoga help here?
The physical practice that Yoga provides with its different poses can bring us into quite intimate contact with our own bodies. If we listen to what we feel there, we may get hints at the information that underlies our stiffness, shortness of breath and immobility.
Instead of fighting against the body and being frustrated with its perceived limitations - can we listen with curiosity?
This is the invitation I have for you: When you practice Yoga and feel discomfort: Please go only as far into the discomfort as you can maintain a deep and regular breath. Only go as far as you can still keep your jaw and face relaxed. Only go as far as you feel that you are still somewhat calm. And with this calmness - listen. Listen to what your body is telling you.
Do you start thinking of all the sweet junk food you have been eating? Maybe the stiffness is related to that ;) When you feel like you cannot breathe as deeply as you’d like to and you start thinking of an argument or a conversation you had with someone, maybe there is a message in that - could that argument have gone a different way? Or have you swallowed down your truth in a conversation?
These are but a few examples of many different ways this inner inquiry can go. But so is the possibility that Yoga can provide us with.
I dare to say that one who goes on to explore what their innermost self is, is in for a lifelong journey of being shown something new about themselves. Openness, humbleness and curiosity towards oneself and the people one encounters are good steps on the path to one’s authentic and more true nature.
So Yoga can help us with creating more authentic relationships. As we dive deeper into our inner world and listen to what surfaces from there, we can, step by step, take action in the outer world as to create more of what feels good and healthy to our bodies.
4. “Real” Food
Real food is actually one of the yogic guidelines.
In Germany, where I come from, we have a saying that goes: “In a healthy body lives a healthy mind.” It makes sense or does it not?
Many, many of the things that can be bought in today’s supermarkets are things that make our bodies rather addicted to certain chemical reactions than to actually nurture them. Eating real food is on one hand supportive for feeling more alive and energetic. On the other hand can it support our mind in the long run to become more calm, relaxed and clear.
This journey can take time. If a person has eaten “not so real food” for a long time, the transition is better made gradually. Putting yourself on crash diets is likely to cause relapse. As our bodies adapt to environments and habits, it makes sense to slowly and gradually implement a new way of eating. If you do this, you have a much greater chance at actually staying in this way of eating.
Eating real and nourishing food can be quite the challenge as quick and unreal foods are around every corner nowadays. However, the transition is so worth it and more and more places do actually provide organic and fresh products. I want to invite you to do your own research and listen to your own feelings of what feels actually possible to implement into your life at this time. There is an almost infinite amount of information and advice out there in regards to nutrition and eating habits. Reading it and trying to find THE answer might just overwhelm and demotivate you, keeping you stuck in habitual patterns.
A couple of questions that might help:
- What would you like to change and how would you like to feel?
- What do you feel like would be a possible and even interesting exploration in regards to eating in a new, more wholesome way?
- What are little steps that feel honestly doable?
The topic of eating and nutrition is quite emotional and intense for some people so I hope this little article and paragraph can support you on your way and if you feel like you need more help because food is in fact something that helps you cope with difficult situations in your life, you might want to get additional support from a mind-body healing practitioner.
Rest is a human need that is highly undervalued and even frowned upon in some cultures. I currently live in Spain and here, Siesta is part of the culture. In Germany, where I come from though, taking a nap in the afternoon is rather something for young, old or sick people. Resting without actually being sick or broken in some way is difficult for a lot of people. Even when sick, many take painkillers and other meds to keep going with their intense schedules. And our bodies, coupled with the minds that live inside of them, pay the toll.
However, resting is very important for our bodies.
And with rest, I don’t mean sitting in front of the TV every day. As the watching of TV still feeds our already full heads with even more information. We may have a sense of “switching off” and relaxing because we freely choose what we want to watch on TV and then just let the screen feed us entertainment. This can give us a sense of freedom from the obligations of daily life but for our body-mind, it is yet another load of information being filled in and needing to be processed.
So what could be a good way of resting?
This is for each and everyone of us to be explored for themselves as it depends of course on individual circumstances. Nevertheless, here are some suggestions that are usually good:
- Going into nature. Nature has a soothing and calming effect on our nervous systems. We are a part of nature and our bodies know this. They feel relaxed when we take them into natural environments. I personally like to lie down in the forest and just be there. To me, nature gives a sense of calmness and clarity that I rarely get from other experiences.
- Spending some time just sitting in silence, gazing off into the distance or at a pleasant sight.
- Breathing - taking deep and conscious breaths.
- What relaxing things do you already do? Or could do?
Dear reader, I hope this article was interesting and insightful to you.
In closing it, I’d like to say that the word Yoga itself actually means Union (coming from the ancient Indian Sanskrit language). What might this “Union” possibly point towards? The realization that body and mind are one and the practice of harmonizing the connection between the two? The realization of one's connection with the surrounding world and how to live this connection in an intelligent way?
I will leave you with this and hope this makes your journey with Yoga more interesting or sparks your interest in starting it.
Wishing you a beautiful day!