Don’t get me wrong, I bloody love yoga. But sometimes I find myself talking about yoga more than actually doing yoga... This then leads to feelings of guilt and anger at myself for being “lazy:” for falling below the expectations that I set myself in my mind.
These feelings of “not enough” are driven by the ego and desire: fuelling comparison instead of presence; competition instead of acceptance, and being harsh on myself instead of having a playful curiosity as I explore myself and reality through my practice. These principles relate to practicing yoga or any form of spiritual movement, but are also invaluable off the mat in our everyday lives too as we relate to ourselves, others and the world around us, becoming more in harmony with our universe.
It is totally normal and okay to feel negative sometimes, take our time and have days off. We all have our good days and bad days and it is totally okay to take our time and have days, or even weeks, off. But by cultivating a good and balanced approach to our practice, through commitment and kindness, the effects of yoga or whatever activities we explore will be more beneficial and sustainable in the long run. Here’s my top tips for finding peace in your personal yoga practice, both on and off the mat!
1) Routine and consistence are key. Transformation takes time.
Often, we see something and we want it. Instagram certainly doesn’t help. We want to achieve that pose, to be able to do something that looks spectacular and capture it to share with the world. We want to push ourselves to grasp this or that, to be the most flexible in the class or to be able to do what everyone else is doing. But the truth is, transformation takes time. Rushing to "be ahead" or be something different to what we are now can make us unbalanced, vulnerable and, in the case of yoga, prone to injury.
In fact, yoga is really about the cultivation of balance between opposites such as strength and flexibility, extension and contraction, and on an energetic level principles such as Shiva (masculine energy) and Shakti (feminine energies). Our digitised world has to often come to see us value image over content; snapshot (or snapchat) over complex and multifaceted experience and journey.
My tip to tackle this truth- be kind to yourself and your journey. If you have particular goals, cultivate routine and consistency in your practice around what you want to achieve in a playful and explorative manner. By not just seeking an end goal- that perfect photo for social media or that "ideal weight," you are much more likely to see results. But also, you are also going to learn more about yourself and your practice on a deeper level by embodying and experiencing your growth and transformation in a holistic way.
2) Deeper than posture.
My next tip: Yoga is more than the physical asana practice!
When we refer to the physical poses in yoga as “asana,” what we are actually referring to translates in Sanskrit as “comfortable seat for meditation.” Thus, the roots of yoga originating in Ancient India show it to be a technique of “cleanse” and “pure”(ification): from the most material and physical to the deepest and subtlest energetic levels. The end goal- spiritual enlightenment and liberation- ultimately to become one with the infinite.
After all, “yoga” itself roughly translates as “union” or “yolk,” reflecting the coming together of opposites and becoming of one with the infinite.
This anti-dualist philosophy that we find in yoga comes from Ancient Hindu religion, traditions, Gods and mythology. Ancient Yogic texts such as the Bhagavad Gita (Song of God) and Das Mahavidas (Ten forms of The Goddess) talk about Gods and Goddesses such as Shiva, Krishna, Shakti, Durga, Kali and Vishnu through great stories which signify a deeper cosmological reality: anthropocentric forms of universal, cosmic energies which exist in every aspect of our life from Time and Transformation (Kali Ma) to Electricity and Thunder (Chinnamasta Ma).
Exploring Traditional Tantra in my Yoga Teacher Training course. Rishikesh, India. (Satya Loka. March 2019)
I won’t go in to it here, but during my Yoga Teacher Training in India we explored these areas more deeply through traditional Tantra: Mantra, Yantra, Yoga, Yagna, Dance, Pranayama and Meditation- and this is something I will definitely be talking about in the future!
But of course when we talk about yoga today we are most often referring to it on a level of physicality and mental wellbeing.
If we look at yoga more holistically, it is about finding balance between opposites in our lives; looking after ourselves, eating and sleeping well, following a good moral code and upkeeping core values on and off the mat (check out Yamas and Niyamas from The Yoga Sutras for the ancient code of conduct). This is really what yoga- as a lived philosophy- is about.
"Diving deeper, one can find much ancient wisdom that goes beyond the obvious physical benefits of the practice to help cultivate more balance and grounding in a life which increasingly feels fragmented and rushed: like you are only just about keeping your head above water."
The beauty of practice as personal to the individual means even if you go deeper just to find your own special space- a form of worship to your divine, higher self, you are giving yourself time and space to heal, ground and just be with yourself. The benefits, and growth, are infinite.
3) Knowledge is relative
Arguably contrary to my previous point, it is not without saying that knowledge is relative.
There are soooo many competing schools of yoga, meditation, spirituality- you name it, with often contradictory doctrines of knowledge surrounding topics ranging from alignment to understanding Bandhas and energy.
For the practitioner, this can be confusing, as they seek perfection and verification through external, pre-prescribed and even authoritarian systems of knowledge negotiating a mass market of options which say they are right.
But it is important to remember that no one type is “the right one.”
Just like you: unique, individual; knowledge is relative not intellectually but experienced through body, self and ultimately with the one-ness of truth, whatever this may mean to you.
On a more literal level, our bodies are different and different things work for different people.
I read recently for example that much yoga is designed really with a young, male body in mind and is much more linear and disciplined than ancient feminine practices of movement which relate to the lunar qualities of the Goddess. Ashtanga is often seen as very disciplined and masculine, while Kundalini Yoga is less about rigid alignment and more about moving Shakti (feminine) energy through repeated kriyas (movements).
(Disclaimer: this is not to say one practice is for men and one is for women; Tantra understands we all have these opposing energies within us and this is something which I will write about in the future.)
So, reflecting on this- that no one system of knowledge is “right,” and even “ancient” systems of knowledge are always up for interpretation, scrutiny and appropriation in new contexts- I encourage you to explore with an openness and curiosity in finding practices and philosophies which resonate with you. Experiment with different teachers and styles and feel through consistency in practice to find a balanced practice, letting both your practice and self evolve and transform over time.
3.2) An add on about teaching:
Leading on from the last point- teaching.
If you are learning to teach, be open to questioning information. After all, you are going to be sharing this knowledge. it is highly undesirable to blindly ask students to follow a presubscribed system of knowledge as absolute truth, while you yourself do not have a deep connection forged through experience in this knowledge.
At the same time, retain awareness of different styles, alignment ques and philosophies: love the style you practice teach, while always being open to evolution.
If you are wanting to do a teacher training course to teach, have confidence in a personal practice, and that the style and teacher you are choosing for your YTT reflects this. And just to reiterate, always be open to learning and exploring more: growing in your experiential knowledge so you can share with others, from a place of experience and love.
4) The value of silence
In my yoga teacher training, my teacher (Radasi) stressed that one of the most valuable things we would gain from the month course was that of silence. In my previous post I talked about the precious gift of giving oneself even five or ten minutes a day to just sit, breathe and be. What I have been loving about my practice recently is having this sacred time for my self, to explore and move; be still and silent, especially with the high energy from working on the online launch of Flossophy Fashion and the fact I ill be starting a new and exciting job in a week!
In India I did a ten-day vipassana meditation course, meditating for ten hours a day with complete ’noble’ silence throughout- aka no talking or even eye contact with anyone while meditating all day every day, for ten days. (watch out for a separate post about this crazy experience coming in the future!)
But again, consistency is key. While vipassana is a very deep and valuable experience, it is on the extreme side and is very intense (who knew meditation could be so dangerous!). They also encourage you to continue to meditate for two hours a day after the course, which is quite a commitment if you are new to practicing meditation.
You may be better off doing 15 minutes of sitting meditation twice a day, than coming out of a vipassana course and not meditating at all thereafter. Quality over quantity, balance over craziness, to sustain a beneficial practice, in my opinion.
Then there is also a reoccurring theme: thinking about and telling people about the fact you have done ten days of meditation, how you must therefore be a pretty spiritual and almost enlightened being, but not actually maintaining any kind of balanced meditation practice in your daily life.
Consistency (i.e. depth and practice), finding balance and retaining equanimity are key, and its okay to take time to explore these areas!
I do find silence hard, but allowing and accepting being alone, being in your company, not verbal pooing to cover award tensions or anxieties, but just be and know that is okay, is invaluable and makes life a bit easier, smoother and more relaxed, at least for me.
5) Embrace Shakti: ups and downs and change.
My final tip for retaining a balanced practice- its okay to go off practice for a while! Embrace the ups and downs of life: the cycles of the seasons. Its okay to change it up, to stop, to reconsider. Its okay to have bad days and good days. Some days things can seem effortless and other days nothing seems to be happening, but try not to beat yourself up about it.
Remember, the beauty of life is that transformation and change are inevitable (thank Kali Ma for that one!).
So if, and when you, are ready to jump back in, then do it! Sometimes we refuse things which innately we know are best for us but reinvesting in yourself can have the greatest rewards: exploring and growing through commitment and love. You are love. 😊 <3
You know why you do it. For the love. The eternal beauty. The connection to self, higher self and that which is infinite, eternal and just can’t quite be grasped by the words of a blog post!
Thanks for reading! Check out the rest of my site for sustainable fashion, yoga and more philosophical ramblings!
Florence, Founder of Philosophy Fashion and co.