It has been over a year since my last post. If this blog were a house in the country, it would have been taken over by the ivy in the corner, the weed at the bottom of the steps long ago. The blog looks abandoned but I have not abandon it.
Writing down thoughts requires some certainty and some argument that the writer can support. When I used to write more about yoga, even if I did not post here, I did have a general idea as to my views on yoga, what my yoga practice should/ ought to look like and I did have a few people that I could draw ideas from which to develop my own opinions.
It is not like I used to take all of it in and not question but this last year or so has been quite different. I am no longer sure about anything in yoga practice, politics and economics of yoga. There is a huge tangled knot in my head about yoga practice, other types of exercise and the content and my preferred method of teaching yoga. The longer I waited for it to dissolve or transform into some kind of new perspective, the more confused I am getting. So, I have decided to come back to writing even if what I write sounds less sure, more searching, even more argumentative, and maybe a little bit judgmental of others and myself.
So, I have not been lazy, I have been “or what!” I have been reading and thinking a lot on yoga and on other related topics. I shall try to figure out what confuses and blows me away from my yoga practice.
In yoga research, the most common research designs is to compare pre and post measures of a group of people completing a yoga programme. The second most favourite design is to compare a yoga group to an inactive group. Both these designs are unreliable. The first one usually fails to produce similar results, thereby causing serious issues for generalisation of those results. And the second one carries the potential to exaggerate the results in favour of yoga and ignore the fact that other types of exercise have similar benefits.
Once you have decided that the state of emergency and alarm is not something that you want to live with, there are things that you can to manage and take your stress reaction under control. This begins from within, because the only thing that we can ever truly control is how we react to a situation or a person, and how we behave and in turn how we feel about it. All other things in life are beyond our control to varying degrees.
This is a very useful way of seeing things, and potentially everything in life. It is neither too dismissive of the world around us, nor too engaging that we get lost in it. I think it encourages us to carefully identify that fine border between ourselves (which we can control) and the rest of the world (which we cannot control). If stress is unmanaged for too long, this border gets blurred, and then we lose sight of what we can and cannot control in our lives. The longer we live like this, the more difficult it gets to undo our confusion and straighten things out.
It is that time in the semester! As the exams and deadlines for hand-ins approach, many have already started to feel the pressure.
Stress is pressure. It is neither good nor bad. It is just that: pressure. How we feel under stress/pressure depends on our expectations regarding the consequences of the origin of stress. Stress is anything that influences our homeostasis, that is our balanced and content state. This could be as insignificant as a quick summer drizzle that cools your skin down for a minute or as significant as the death of a loved one, a loud noise in the middle of the night, an exam at the end of the semester, falling in love, a youtube video of very cute kittens, exercising, watching a favourite programme on the telly etc… anything that gets your heart beating up and creates even a quantum of excitement or surprise.
For me, the holiday begins on the day of the winter solstice. I can hardly think of any particular day of the year that feels so hopeful like the day after that. Although, it doesn’t get any lighter here at least for another month or so, I reckon that it is almost the first day the spring. I suppose this was how the people of the olden days felt and made a whole celebration around it.
Unfortunately, for most of people, it is not this simple. This time of the year means replacing the burden of work duties with a gnawing sense of an obligation to review the past year and make resolutions to become what they feel is a better person, parent with a better, nicer life as if it is possible to transform into that ideal self over the course of a week or two or overnight, no less.
I would say that life is a continuous flow with a few waterfalls spread throughout, where we ceaselessly chase an ideal self, which seems to get away from us whenever we come closer. The ideal self, the better person, the better parent, the better daughter are unattainable obscure goals; they are almost deliberately designed to be failed at. Instead of forcing the disappointment and guilt of the past and the anxieties, expectations of the future, yoga teaches us the possibility of enjoying the present. This is easier said than done, all the same it is worth the shot. May this be a time where you let go off all expectations and pretences of yourself and just breathe and be.
Recently, I’ve been interviewed for the student magazine of the university here. The interview was about a specific yoga class that I started teaching last year (maybe, more on being interviewed about yoga later).
At some point in this interview, I was asked to give some good reasons why people should do yoga. That was too difficult a question for me to answer. Instead, I told them why I do yoga: to win back (at least some of ) the freedom of movement that, like every human, I am losing as my body gets older and stiffer and to remember the freedom of imagination that we all have as a child but usually forget as we grow up.
I am not naturally flexible or strong and I didn’t start doing yoga until I was almost 36, so my body was already pretty rigid and I was really not very fit. Whatever I am able to do now as a yoga practitioner came with continuous practice. I’ve always seen yoga classes as an opportunity to play. During the classes (and even when I swim, for that matter), I used to imagine myself as a baby elephant: cute but rather clumsy. I am less clumsy now but the image of that baby elephant is still there some of the time. Some of the time because now I can actually focus on what and how I feel instead of how I look like to others and what they might be thinking about me. Therefore, I can now have more fun during the practice, be it on my own at home or my usual yoga class at the shala. Now, I feel that I am free to explore the physical and emotional opportunities. I can tease my fears, for example, my fear of backbends because I know I am just exploring and can stop anytime I choose to. As I surrender myself to play, I feel I am more in charge of what happens when paradoxically I really don’t expect anything particular to happen. I just play and have fun.
When I have rolled my mat away, the whole yoga play is finished – nothing to be reconsidered, nothing to reminisce about or to regret. It was what it was and just that. The feeling of satva, contentment with myself and the world lingers with me the rest of the day.