What is yoga?

Mindfulness.
That’s it. There’s your answer. Of course there’s s hundred other definitions, right down to the literal translation (yoke, or union), but in essence it really is just mindfulness.
This question, ‘what is yoga?’ was put to me and my fellow yogi teacher trainers right at the beginning of our course. And although we had a hundred combined years of yoga experience, none of us hit the nail on the head with our answers.
Before you read on, have a think about what YOU think yoga is. Stretching? Flexibility? Meditation? Breathing? If you answered any of these, you are correct! But not wholly so. Yoga is all of these things and a million more.
The ancient sage, Patanjali, who recorded the yoga sutras thousands of years ago, defined the purpose of yoga as ‘stilling the constant fluctuations of the mind’. How one does that is entirely up to the individual.
The 8 limbs of yoga have been set out for us as a useful way of reaching that destination (read about the 8 limbs here). But how one interprets each of these limbs varies widely. Not only do our social and cultural influences play a part (particularly in our interpretation of the yamas and niyamas), but our individual mind, body and spirit do also.
One person’s body may be entirely incapable of certain asana poses that another person finds works wonderfullyl to still the mind and focus. One person may find pounding the pavement and listening to their footsteps as they run a meditative experience, whereas someone else may not have an able body that allows them to run.
Further to this, one person’s mind may be a lot more inclined to switch off than another’s (due to a massive range of factors). Take my husband, for example, who I often ask ‘what are you thinking about?’ to which I get the response of ‘nothing’ (and he means it; his mind is literally blank at that moment). I, on the other hand, find it difficult to have any less than about three simultaneous thoughts as well as a song running through my head at any given moment (it’s truly exhausting). So his practice to still the mind would be entirely different to mine.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Everyone is different. Being mindful and present to the moment is where you will reach yoga. You can be mindful of each and every step you take, and that focus is the very essence of yoga. You can be completely lost in listening to a song, or in beholding the beauty of nature all around you, or in stirring a pot on the stove, or in colouring a picture, or in laughing uncontrollably, or in a defined and designated yoga practice. All of these and every other activity in the world can be yoga. It’s the job of the individual to figure out what’s the best practice for them.

Kids are the best yoga teachers

The more I watch my kids and really take in what they’re doing, the more I recognise that they are my best yoga teachers…

‘A one and a three year old yoga teacher?’, I hear you wonder. Perhaps not in the western sense of what a yoga teacher entails. Because no, they can’t instruct me into the perfect down dog or headstand; they can hardly do most poses themselves!

But I’ve come to realise more and more lately that asana is the most overrated, and yet over practiced part of yoga. Don’t get me wrong, asana is great. It makes you feel good, it keeps the body healthy, supple and strong, and it gives us a great focus for an hour or so a day, plus carries out it’s intention (to allow one to sit comfortably for meditation). I’m not poo pooing asana.

But it’s what I’ve been observing in my kids that I really want to strive towards; not a perfect pinca mayurasana, but a calm, focused mind. My one year old can sit and look at pebbles for an hour, entranced by the way they fall through his fingers. My three year old can find complete joy in jumping in a puddle or flying a kite on a windy day. And all I see is an expected mess of muddy washing or a flare up of wind-induced allergies. That’s not being in the present!!

I watch the one year old walk with complete care and mindfulness on his way down a set of stairs. Yes, he has to walk like this, because otherwise he would stack it on his face. But I can take a lesson from this in bringing complete awareness to the everyday, seemingly mundane tasks. As if my mind could possibly be full of citta vrittis if I was that focused on how I walk!

The three year old absolutely loves sorting out washing and balling socks. So she may not be quite as keen on other jobs around the house, but when the washing is ready to be sorted, she looks like she’s just been offered an ice cream!! Joyful work! A lesson in karma yoga!

The excitement they exhibit when they see someone they love. Nothing to hide, no social conditioning that tells them it’s not okay to show pure joy at seemingly everyday things. They scream for joy and run at whoever they have spotted that they just can’t wait to cuddle. There is no ego; no attachment; no idea of separateness… They really feel that they are one with each other (literally, in the case of an infant with its mother) and the world.

Even just the way their little bodies work. The way they breathe into their bellies (I often watch the rise and fall of their little bellies with each breath, it’s very meditative!), or how their body naturally moves with their breath (again, noticeable when they sleep). How easily they drop into malasana squat or a perfect dandasana rod pose! Such limber little things with perfect posture. They stand strong and tall, not resting their weight off lazily to one to side, but firmly rooting both feet into the ground. They know what they want (actually, they know what they need). That’s all that matters. Anything that they get on top of that is just extra. They need love. They need food. They need sleep. And that’s all we need as adults too. We have just forgotten along the years of social and cultural conditioning. Our perception glasses are on and we don’t see things as they truly are.

So I’m going to let my kids be my guru. I’ll observe them and learn from them, perhaps just as much as they learn from me.

Becoming a yoga teacher

It seems everywhere you look these days there’s another yoga style, yoga teacher, yoga selfie… It’s certainly become the in thing. Why, after being around for thousands of years, has it suddenly become hip? Who knows.

As I sat in my first teacher training class surrounded by 20 odd people from very different walks of life and demographics, I wondered what led them all to the teacher training journey. I discovered the answer as the weeks went on; a desire to help was the main response. Helping those with anxiety, the aged, women going through menopause, kids. Everyone I spoke to had a different direction they wanted to take with their teaching. Maybe that’s why yoga has become so popular. Because it really can help in all stages of life and with various conditions. And in our modern world full of a multitude of issues, people just need a little help!

I was fortunate enough to do a teacher training course that really brought in like minded people. {As far as I could tell} no one in the course was there to try and become a yoga rockstar (or a yoga-lebrity as my teacher calls it). I’m sure there are plenty of teacher trainings out there where the main goal of the cohort is achieving fancy poses they can do on a cliff face, take a photo of, and get a million likes on Instagram for it. How that translates to an income is beyond me, but good luck to them.

So why did I become a yoga teacher? For my family originally. I wanted a job that allowed me to help people, that was meaningful, and that would allow me to be around for my young family. My pre-children job was in the city, with an hour commute each way, and 7 hours of mundane work. I was not a happy person, which does not translate to a happy home life. Massage and yoga seemed to fit the bill perfectly. I could work around my families schedule, doing something I love, while helping others. There aren’t many jobs where after spending an hour of time with someone, they walk away feeling fantastic thanks to you. Gives you a little high every time!!

It was a great plan. The question is, will it work? I have no interest in posting yoga selfies of myself (and no one would want to see them anyway!) and in the modern western world, getting yoga work is going to be tough. I’m so glad that I started on this yoga path with my family in mind, because it means I’m not out there trying to be uber successful and make a pretty packet. I need to make enough to survive, nothing more and hopefully nothing less.

So here’s the problem. The more followers we have, the more I can share what I have to give. But in an effort to get more followers, I’m finding I have to compromise my values, and the very reason I wanted to become a teacher in the first place. I find myself trying to get online exposure on Facebook, which takes time away from the beautiful little humans that call me mummy.

The best way I can help people at this stage is to share my experiences and knowledge. And blogging is a great way to do that. But rather than spend my time trying to get more people to read what I have to say on Facebook, I’m going to step away from the platform that I find truly distracts a large percentage of people from that thing we call life (myself included), and in turn uphold my integrity.

If you’re wanting to hear what I have to say, please subscribe via email to our blog or newsletter on the website, because otherwise you won’t be seeing much of me. Time will tell whether it’s possible to spread the yoga love and earn a living without trying to be something I’m not. Being authentic is important to me and I don’t want to compromise that just to earn a buck.

If you’re already a teacher, what made you decide to become one? Has it panned out the way you thought it would? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Christianity and yoga

Christianity and Yoga. Can the two go together?

Every yogi knows there is an aspect of spirituality to yoga. Yoga is all about combining body, breath, mind and spirit. When I decided to undertake teacher training, my Catholic mother seemed a little concerned that I was going against Christianity. Quite the contrary in my opinion, as my yoga studies actually reenforced what I know about my Christian faith; that we are all a spark of the divine and should recognise that in our dealings with all beings. Mum’s mind was eased when she spoke to our priest, who as an Indian was raised with a solid understanding of yoga and its concepts, who expressed to her that yoga and Christianity are actually closely related in terms of fundamental principles. I had certainly seen this myself, with the yamas and niyamas mirroring the Ten Commandments quite closely, and the messages in the Bhagavad Gita being the same as those in the bible.

I’m certainly no theologian, and while my faith is strong, my knowledge is lacking. I haven’t done bible studies or really educated myself on the teachings of the bible or Christianity (or any other religion for that matter) so when a friend came over and was open to discussing his faith and his thoughts on religion in yoga, I was all ears. He expressed with great clarity how he meditates on bible teachings and how this is an effective method for him in dealing with stresses and issues.

He explained that Christianity is the only religion that isn’t based on doing things in consideration of the final outcome (i.e. getting through the pearly gates). Where each religion has its own unique version of this (karma, good deeds, avoiding sin, etc.), in Christianity we are actually expected to sin. We were born with original sin and it is only through the grace of God that we are welcomed into heaven. As such, we aren’t expected to spend our years trying to be our best so that we can get into heaven. Instead we should spend our years being our best in gratitude to God. Any sins we perform are a way to learn and be better next time.

He gave an analogy that really rings true to my circumstances. I can either constantly tell my children that they should be good kids, and if they are I will reward them with television or pizza or whatever tickles their fancy, or I can provide them with love and care and everything they need, and in turn they will be good kids because they are grateful to me for everything I do for them. I don’t know whether kids have the capacity to think like this or whether it’s supposedly an intuitive thing, but I think the concept is definitely worth contemplating.

This same message is expressed in the Bhagavad Gita… we are expected to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, and not consider what we will get out of those actions. The difference between the two messages? One relates to Jesus, the other doesn’t. And that’s the main (only) difference I can see between the two philosophies. They express the same message, but one is in the name of Jesus and the other is not.

My friend believes that 90% of the messages are the same, but it’s that final 10% that makes all the difference. That final 10%, where yoga goes directly against the teachings of the bible; where the bible says that we need to accept Jesus into our heart and recognise him as our saviour, yoga does not. In fact, yoga says it doesn’t matter who you pray to as long as you recognise there is a higher being.

The conversation certainly sparked some realisations for me, mainly in that I need to educate myself a whole lot more. I’ve always been hesitant to take on board anything completely 100%. I think both yoga and all religions were written by people who have their own biases and interpret things based on those biases. I believe yoga can be practiced in a safe manner, avoiding the devil’s works that devout Christians fear will make their way into yoga practices. I believe regardless of the stuff going on in the thinking mind, both yoga and religion have the ability to lead to the same outcome; it doesn’t matter what form of rationalising is behind that outcome. It’s a matter of finding what practice, be it asana, meta meditation, prayer, good works, whatever, is the right fit for the individual. And that practice will no doubt change a multitude of times throughout one’s life.

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