There's more to yoga than jumping around the mat.
Allow me to introduce our guest blogger, Lakshmi Kumar. Lakshmi is a yoga instructor whose training comes from various gurus in India. She continues to study Ashtanga Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Pranayama, Sutras Chanting, and other meditation techniques.
Lakshmi wants us to understand that yoga means more than jumping around a mat. Aside from the physical achievements of practicing yoga, the neural-cultivating benefits from yoga are even more astounding.
Here is Lakshmi’s blog:
Yoga simply means to keep your mind free of thoughts. If you can sit and do nothing – I call it “bliss out” – then you are doing yoga. Unfortunately, not everyone can experience bliss without being conscious of it. Yoga brings that awareness and consciousness into life.
“Sound body, and then sound mind,” always said my teacher. He’d frequently pose to the class, “If one doesn’t have a good physical body, and he’s hurting everywhere, then how can he sit and meditate or do anything peacefully?” Many people are unable to sit and meditate, even with the promise of bliss. Why? Usually, it’s because the person is unprepared for the experience or considers it boring.
So, how do we get there? One must open the nadis. Nadis (a Sanskrit word) is the channel or stream that influences the flow of prana or life force throughout your body. Through proper breathing and the movement of flow through physical practice, one can slowly unravel the secrets to higher limbs (steps) in yoga.
The journey from external to internal
Asana (postures) practice on the mat is a great entry point for most people as they explore yoga for the first time. It will allow progress along the ‘yoga ladder’ as one reaches up to higher limbs. For most people, including me, yoga begins with asana practice on the mat. Daily asana will eventually become routine and a part of your lifestyle. You will start experiencing a positive shift in your energy levels. The feeling you get while doing yoga and the subtle changes you’ll notice will seem to transform everything around you.
Shifts in your ability to breathe properly and your capacity to sit on the floor for an extended period will reflect how at ease you are with your body. Beginning with asana practice, your body will start to crave more. As you slowly practice asanas, you will discover this is just the tip of the iceberg. Most people, once captivated by the practice of yoga, will explore other limbs of yoga. Your journey is just beginning!
Let me tell you a little about my yoga journey. Growing up I was very fidgety. I rarely felt confident no matter what I did. My yoga journey began when I was 16 years old. I feel it was a personal calling, but it wasn’t easy. You can imagine a 16-year-old attempting the discipline of daily 5 am yoga sessions – probably a bit much to expect from a teenager. Two decades later, I am still practicing and trying to incorporate other limbs of yoga.
Yoga has helped make me a confident person – no longer fidgety. In fact, I can sit alone in one place for an hour and enjoy my own company without getting bored. It did not happen overnight, but it did happen. It is a way of life.
When it comes to measuring personal growth in yoga, or any sport for that matter, progress should not be measured in days or weeks, or even months. Growth is continual – years of training, exploring, and changing.
Over the past several years of practicing yoga and meditation, I’ve learned a very important, practical lesson. It is the lesson of awareness – the awareness that people around me don’t create my emotions. I create emotional responses. Once I understood this, my perspective changed, and things started changing around me in a positive way. Just like happiness, yoga is a journey. It’s not a goal. It’s a lifestyle.
I’m going to give you two simple actions you can start practicing today: Silent Contemplation and Introspection/Retrospection.
The first experience of my meditation started when my teacher asked me to sit in silence for 5 minutes.
If I was going to learn my yoga postures from this teacher, mediation was mandatory. I was worried that he might expect me to perform some advanced postures before understanding my abilities. To my surprise, this wise teacher asked me to sit for 5 minutes with my eyes closed.
I did it, but throughout that first lesson, I was frustrated that my thoughts were swirling all around my mind in weird directions. Each day, I continued to sit for 5 minutes. My teacher increased the exercise to 10 minutes after several days. Finally, he was convinced I could sit for at least 10 mins without looking worried. What a blessing to learn from teachers who gave me what I needed, not what I wanted.
The practice of silent contemplation is a great start. Practice this every day. In a mere few weeks, you’ll start feeling a new YOU. The secret to body or mind is consistency. This may not happen overnight but doesn’t take a lifetime either.
- Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight.
- Start the timer for 3 mins and close your eyes.
- Take a few deep breaths and sit in silence.
- Allow your thoughts to come. Don’t try to fight them. (Wandering, impulsive thoughts will likely continue to occur during your initial sessions.)
- After some time, you will become capable of controlling your vacillating thoughts and settle down. You are now ready for introspection and retrospection.
Introspection and Retrospection
Using the meditative techniques of introspection (to reflect upon one's thoughts, feelings, and the actuation of these feelings) and retrospection (to reflect on past events or decisions) can help us achieve the inner peace and contentment we all crave.
Even though I practiced on the mat for many years, yoga did not provide the mental relief I needed all the time. Undoubtedly, I felt great and ecstatic each time I practiced asana. Yet, I felt something was missing – my ability to deal with life situations beyond my mat. Did I have the ability to change my response to others’ behavior? Did I feel at ease with people around me who made me feel uncomfortable? Did I have the courage to say, ‘I don’t care.’ if they judged me? For me, the answer to these questions was a big NO.
Understanding one’s problems is only part of the explanation. Finding a solution is the other part. I needed to accept that I should look within instead of seeking answers externally. I assumed I could find fulfillment from other people or environments. This seemed to work – for a while. However, I soon realized that I needed a permanent, real solution. The solution that was inside me – my choice.
The key to finding our solution to a problem arising out of our mental or emotional state (a state other than physical), is to accept the problem and assign responsibility to ourselves. The problem becomes a problem only because of our response to it.
As an example, let’s say someone wronged you, and you were hurt by this. Looking inward (self-examination) helps you understand that your thoughts and responses to this situation create the hurt. You hurt yourself. Of course, the other person performed the action, and that was likely not a good thing. Remember, the other person’s power is only on the outside. You have the power inside to determine what to think, how long to dwell on it, and how to respond to it. Someone’s behavior could affect you for a lifetime if you let it. Someone’s actions could hurt for 20 days or 20 seconds. You have the choice inside you.
Try these simple yet powerful meditation tips. These have helped me overcome my anxieties.
- Prepare in silent contemplation. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths.
- Identify the problem or situation that is troubling your mind.
Example: You believe your friend’s life is better than yours – financially, personally, and professionally. This makes you feel jealous and bad, even inferior.
- Accept the feelings you are experiencing. Take it one step further and actually describe and state the situation out loud.
Example: “I’m jealous, and my jealousy is making me feel bad.”
Once you explicitly identify the problem by describing its true nature and then fully accept it by stating it aloud, you will quickly realize that the problem is not outside of you. It won’t be long before you realize you don’t want to be that person who allows a situation to create unhappiness for you.
- Solve the situation through perspective. Now that you’ve defined the problem and you’ve accepted that you and your reactions are the culprits of the negative feelings, the best way to approach a solution is to change your perspective.
Example: You will come to the realization that your feelings of jealousy can be moderated, and thus your uneasiness around your friend. As your perspective changes, you will see yourself becoming comfortable and those envious feelings will dissolve.
You can train your mind using techniques like thoughts of reassurance, positive affirmations, the assertion that your life and happiness are not dependent on the other person’s wellbeing but your own. Any time problematic thoughts enter your mind, you will have trained your subconscious to remind you how to use perspective.
There could be circumstances in which you may not clearly see that the solution lies within you. In a more devastating situation, you may fear that circumstances are beyond your control.
Example: You have experienced the loss of a loved one. You are mourning. In this state, you struggle with grief. You believe the situation is not in your hands.
Again, a change of perspective can release you of this worry.
Your loved ones would likely not want to be the cause of your distress. Those you loved and who loved you should not be the subject of your problem. One way to deal with this is to change your perspective from sorrow to remembrance. Instead of grieving, relive cherished moments. Rather than mourn, celebrate your loved ones.
Both examples above contain the common factors of illumination and acceptance of your feelings and responses. You can use the contemplative techniques above for any problematic situation. The techniques can be performed in a few minutes. And, once you begin to believe in the power of meditation, it will bring new perspectives and perceptions that will last hours, days, years – and a lifetime.
By being still and holding your thoughts (often referred to as ripples in the lake), you can contemplate and experience pure consciousness (your true self). Pure consciousness is free of memory and intelligence. The feeling of contentment reached through introspection and retrospection is worth 10 minutes of your time. Try it. In those few minutes, you will have practiced yoga without jumping around your mat. Be confident that positive change in your thoughts can and will come, not just during your meditation time, but throughout the day – every day. I hope this article will help you in your yoga and meditation journey.
Lakshmi teaches in Charlotte, NC. I wish to thank her personally for taking the time to share her story with all of us. For those of us who are involved in sports, I highly recommend consideration of meditation and the practice of yoga exercises. Last week, my blog was about Prehab and Rehab. Let meditation and yoga exercises serve as part of your Prehab routine. This can help you minimize future injuries.
Until next week my friends, be thoughtful about your long-term potential and move through it! Remember, there's more to yoga than jumping around the mat.
Have a thoughtful day,