Guest blog by Dani Caputo, yoga instructor and director of AbunDance and Yoga Studio
“Perhaps you should just rest at the moment. Your body is doing so much work to grow that little baby, maybe come back after three months.”
These were the words my wise yoga teacher gently whispered to me after I dozed off, leaving a pool of saliva on my yoga mat during relaxation. Six weeks pregnant, exhausted and waving goodbye to my fellow yogis as they left class was not where I had imagined my yoga practice going.
I had just started my yoga teacher training. I needed to be throwing myself into my yoga practice! How could I possibly take a break now?
This was the first time the concept of yoga beyond the mat was introduced to me. So I began a journey of understanding that the yoga I thought I knew was actually more than the physical postures I had been so focused on. In fact, according to Pantajali, an ancient indian philosopher, there are eight limbs of yoga. The physical postures – known as the asanas – are just one of those limbs.
Here’s a very brief list of the complete system:
1) Yama: Universal morality – is meant to guide our relationships and interactions with other beings in the world
2) Niyama: Personal observances – meant to improve the human personality
(Yama and Niyama can be unpacked a lot further to ten commitments of attitude and behaviour.)
3) Asanas: Body postures
4) Pranayama: Breathing exercises, and control of prana (or life-force)
5) Pratyahara: Control of the senses
6) Dharana: Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
7) Dhyana: Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
8) Samadhi: Union with the Divine
As you can see there’s so much more to yoga than just the postures.
I’m sure Mr Pantajali would be devastated to see what our culture has done by glorifying just one part of such a holistic and ancient system.
The fact is, that too often in our western society, yoga has been marketed as a lycra-loving, high pony tail wearing, skinny young person’s pretzel-twisting past time.
This leaves the remainder of the population out of the subconscious invitation to try yoga.
We see professional dancers, gymnasts and contortionists follow their passion of yoga (which is completely acceptable), but the downside of their amazing selfies to social media is that it can make the rest of the world who may be contemplating a yoga class to back away quietly and go back to slumping in front of the television! Unfortunately these types of images are misleading and limiting to the general public about what’s really possible for the individual through yoga practice. Yoga is a science of self study, from the inside out, not the other way!
How disappointing would it be for a person to never try yoga because they feel they are the wrong body shape, not flexible enough, or not strong enough to participate? How potentially damaging would it have been for my pregnant self to push through yoga that wasn’t suited to my current situation?
There are many more challenges to be explored through the gift of yoga. How about Dharana, or developing mindfulness of your own body and its energy, so you can become aware of what your body requires and when it is out of balance? What about sitting in stillness for a period of time without your mind having a field day about what’s on your ‘To Do’ list? How about practicing kindness and compassion for others in the face of anger or stressful situations? This is not to say that the physical limb of yoga is to be forgotten, but it should be viewed as one component of a broader holistic system.
Yoga really is like maintenance for your mind, body and soul.
Regular practice may help you become more aware of your breath and the ability to deepen it when challenged by stressful or anxious situations. Hell, you may just be able to pause before responding to your child/partner/complete stranger when they are raging out or melting down. When yoga is approached with an awareness of all eight limbs and not limited to just the physical, the benefits are far reaching.
Being a mum to three little boys, running my yoga classes, supporting my community and my teaching job all keeps me busy, so I don’t always get to my physical yoga practice. My teacher assures me there are many paths to enlightenment, so I guess I’m on the path where I’m stepping on Lego, catching footballs and having my heart jump out of my body on a regular basis. I’m definitely not skinny, I can just pull off a high pony, I love green smoothies but I suck at handstands and I call myself an imperfect yoga teacher – and I’m okay with that.
So if you haven’t been to a yoga class because you think you cant X, Y or Z, don’t be influenced by some of those stereotypical images. Find a reputable teacher with recognised training and don’t miss out on what can be the life changing effects of yoga practice.