I’m off on a yoga retreat (read treat) in just under two weeks and I’m just a teeny bit excited! So in anticipation or celebration I thought I’d share with you what I call the yin and yang of yoga (just my term, nothing technical). I hope I can inspire you to give yoga a go, if you haven’t already.
From walking very slowly and eating purposefully, to hot yoga and yoga pairs, mantras and mudras, I’ve tried different practices for exercise, peace, balance, flexibility, calm and meditation.
Just take a deep breath and begin…
You wouldn’t want to eat purposefully if you were really hungry. You’d be starving by the end of it – especially having started the morning walking slowly, very slowly. Purposefully. Purposeful walking is spiritual slow motion. Don’t expect any fat burning, aerobic exercise from this morning walk. Although by the end of it, you do feel you’ve given your gluteus Maximus a bit of a workout.
The first stage is quiet obviously lifting (one leg at a time is definitely easiest). I don’t think it matters whether you start with your left or right leg as long as you alternate from there (or tripping and falling is the likely consequence). The lifting part should take approximately three seconds (it helps to verbalise the motion – lifting, lifting, lifting). At this point your lifted leg should be raised to hip height and bent at the knee at right angles. You then proceed to push. Pushing, pushing, pushing. This involves straightening your lower leg and pressing it forward until your leg is almost extended straight out from your hip. From this point (if you’re not tottering too much) you are free to slowly and deliberately lower your leg – but don’t touch the ground just yet. That movement is left to the fourth part of the stepping process – the placing of your foot on the ground. Placing, placing, placing. This leads naturally to the final manoeuvre of such a simple yet protracted step – transferring. Your weight that is, onto your other foot so that you can start the process all over again (and avoid falling flat on your face). You don’t get very far, very fast. But as you lift, lift, lift, slow down, push, push, push, expand the heart, lower, lower, lower, still the mind, place, place, place, nourish the body, transfer, transfer, transfer, honour the soul, you find yourself in a faraway place. A silent, tranquil place deep within your soul. And the longer your trance like sleep walk continues the calmer you become. Until you’ve almost forgotten how hungry you are for breakfast.
My stomach reminded me during the half hour of sitting meditation that followed the half hour of walking meditation. But regardless of my appetite, this was no time for gluttony. We were all committed to eating slowly, purposefully, and silently. I settled for toast with honey, some fruit and herbal tea (no coffee). And proceeded to eat purposefully. This again involved lifting, very slowly, the food towards the mouth. It is best to keep your mouth shut until this point (unless you want to look like a goldfish) before proceeding to open it in preparation for the receipt of a not too generous mouthful. The morsel should be contemplated and anticipated. It should be masticated meaningfully. Chewed properly, really tasted, before being swallowed, slowly, and then savoured. This focused approach to eating ensures breakfast lasts the best part of half an hour, even without being interrupted by conversation. Because after all it was our day of silence.
Believe it or not I managed to stay silent for all of that first day of my very first yoga retreat, up on Springbrook Mountain, so I could truly appreciate the World Heritage listed rainforest. Leaves littered the forest floor as we walked a red carpet through the green. Sunlight skipped through the trees, picking out bright autumn leaves as dance partners. They twirled in the breeze and flashed in the sunshine like flamingo dancers. It seemed the sun spotlighted each one in turn, the brightest leaf the brightest only because of the light with which it was given to shine.
In ten days I’ll be back on Springbrook Mountain for a weekend and I’ll be cocooned in the warmth of the yoga and meditation room. I’ll be transformed back in my own mother’s womb and the world will feel so small it could fit inside even the tiniest of the pieces of my heart that have been stuck back together now. That’s what a yoga retreat can do for you! (or me anyway).
Stretch yourself into some balance
It would certainly be a stretch (he, he) to say that I’m any kind of expert on yoga – I haven’t studied any particular style nor am I a qualified teacher (although it’s a hope I harbour) but as I’ve been told by more than one teacher ‘it’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect.’
Wise words when you’re tackling crow pose, or trying to turn yourself into a ‘perfectly’ balanced tree, and even for that matter, when all you are trying to do is walk slowly.
Yoga promotes unity of the mind and body and peace within, so it’s not surprising that yoga practice is a great way to focus on yin yang balance in our lives.
Yoga is in fact a Sanscrit (ancient Indian) word meaning to yoke or to unify.
From the very yang styles of hot yoga, like Bikram and the Fireshaper yoga that I’m absolutely loving to yin yoga where poses, or asanas are held for an extended period, yoga, IMHO offers great opportunities for exercise, peace and reflection. In hot yoga there is plenty of sweating too, which is sort of disgusting but worth it!
I also love the Vinyasa style of yoga – it’s basically my mantra with movement – ‘go with the flow’. It’s all about the breathing, so that movement flows with the breath and becomes kind of like a dance – in fact there is a series of strong standing poses known as Warrior poses, that can be practiced as a ‘Warrior Dance’ (nothing fearsome but very strong though).
Yin yoga comes from a modern Taoist interpretation of yoga, based the ancient Taoist Tao Yin (Dao Yin) tradition, but has also been adapted in Hatha yoga practice originating in India. The idea of holding stretches for a long time is also applied in martial arts, gymnastics and dance disciplines to enhance flexibility. Yin yoga targets the connective tissues – ligaments and tendons in the joints and spine, with the aim being preparation for longer periods of meditation.
A ‘typical’ yoga class moves through a variety of asanas, from hip openers to forward and backward bends, standing and balance poses and twisting poses that are excellent for detoxifying the organs. You are probably bound to find yourself in an downward dog pose at some stage, bum stuck in the air as you try to turn your body into an upside down ‘V’ and try (I still haven’t yet) to get your feet flat on the ground.
You may find yourself in rather embarrassing position of ‘Happy Baby’ (see photo below) and if you are brave and flexible enough you might be up for a shoulder stand. Image source
Almost definitely you will take the pose of the mountain (Tadasana) and feel grounded into the earth and then finish in the pose of the corpse (Savasana). And then, if you can still your monkey mind, I reckon you will think that there really is something in this yoga thing. Happy stretching.
Linking up with new author Jess, for IBOT!