One of my favourite memories of being in a yoga class was when I took Cat’s class at Jivamukti London a year ago. Cat was leading a strong, amazingly instructed vinyasa, and in one of the sequences, the guy practicing next to me went fully rogue, taking whatever postures he felt like moving into, completely veering off of the class we were there to take. Cat didn’t let it go unnoticed, as I quickly understood by her “STAY PRESENT” interjection. He quickly came back to the moment and fell into the flow the rest of us were moving through.
As a yoga teacher, I constantly find myself instructing students that veer off of the path that the class is moving along, and, admittedly, as much as I try to address it without interrupting the instruction, I have never had the guts to literally tell someone to follow along and stay with my words. I loved Cat’s certainty, but more than that, I understood where it came from. Some people argue that those who attend classes and then follow their own internal teacher shouldn’t bother coming to class at all, because what’s the point if they’re not an active participant in the process? But, I know that some students have physical limitations and/or injuries that prevent them from taking certain postures, so they adjust what they need to in order to stay in the flow and maintain a certain pace. However…what I also occasionally see is students who have been practicing for a long time, whether with me or with other studios and teachers, who are familiar with the practice and feel like they’re used to the sequences and know where the class is going. I’ve been that student, and still am, on occasion. It is because of this assumed familiarity that we sometimes find ourselves moving through the asanas with reduced presence and attention…and it is in that semi-lethargy that we find ourselves moving into the next anticipated posture without being aware that the teacher hasn’t brought us there – in fact, everyone else has kept following along and they’re moving through entirely different sequences. So we snap back to the present moment and speed-yog through a few postures until we catch up to the class, and with the adrenaline rushing, we make sure we’re fully present for the rest of the class. And that is what it’s all about: presence.
If yoga is union, and we’re aiming to unify the mind, body and the breath, then we’re falling out of a state of yoga when our minds are elsewhere. The same goes when our breath is out of control, as well as when our bodies are taking postures that are not being instructed. To come back to the practice involves coming back into a state of union, and that is what the fundamental aim of the practice is. Our goal as yogis is to come back to that state of unification and alignment as often as possible so that we can have glimpses into the realm of truth, possibility and permanence. It is through those experiences that we become galvanized to pass on the teachings and guidelines to our students so that they can experience those moments of beauty and expanding awareness as well. The ultimate goal? To achieve a state of oneness all the time, in all moments, remembering that what happens on the mat during any yoga practice is a microcosm of what happens in our daily lives, allowing what we learn through our practice to be incorporated into our daily meanderings. To achieve peace. To achieve detachment from the material world, understanding that true happiness lies in our ability to connect…to each other, to the earth and the world around us, and, ultimately, to a higher energy. All through the practice.
So if you have en existing practice, challenge yourselves to observe how you practice. Notice when and why your attention wanders from the breath and the movement, and see if you can gain insight into why it’s happening. More importantly, if you don’t practice yoga, check yourselves throughout your day. If you’re constantly active and busy, take moments out of your hustle and bustle to step back from everything, and notice if you’re fully participating in your own life, or if you’re half-heartedly going through the motions, with some of your attention elsewhere. If you are, do your best to let whatever is in the past stay in the past, and to let go of how you think things will unravel in the future. Be present, and see how it serves you. You might be surprise how it changes your approach to everything, and to the relationships that already exist between you and the people you work with, live with, etc…Try it out…If you don’t find yourselves any the wiser for it, you’re still ahead of the game, because you made the effort to stand back from yourselves and do some digging, some exploration. If the expression “An unexamined life is not worth living” is accurate, then it’s time to infuse our existences with worth. All it takes is the intention and awareness. Try it out, and see for yourselves….
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I just took a class the other day at laughing lotus and because i feel a few weeks ago i could not do boat pose with the rest of the class. so while i did my own little thing, i did feel a bit disrespectful because she put a sequence together so that we could get something out of it. it’s a very tricky balance indeed!