Photo Credit: Michael Lorenzo

Why Practice Yoga?

Beyond the obvious physical fitness benefits, what are we actually doing when we practice yoga? What is yoga for and why is it good for us? Here are a few pointers as to what it’s all about. Let these thoughts be a launch pad for your own practice. Your own experience will of course be unique and this is why it is best to try it for yourself!

Establishing a safe inner space

Sometimes we need to retreat from the world for a bit. It’s OK to use external entertainment for a while, but if we really want to create deep and lasting change, an internally oriented practice is the most effective. Yoga can help to center us while we traverse our internal landscape. Once we know what to expect from our inner world we can mold it to our own needs. A side effect of the process is that we will never need to look elsewhere for the comfort and solace we sometimes crave.

* Connecting with our greater sense of self: once we awaken the thirst for a more expansive way of thinking, yoga can take us into a deeper more profound relationship with ourselves. The destination we are seeking is the vast experience of nature. We can eventually transcend our sense of ‘limited’ personal self as we connect with blissful awe to the cosmic reality upon which our lives are truly built.

* Creating strong neural pathways for an enhanced relaxation response: the nature of the human brain is plastic. It is constantly moulding and adapting to environmental pressures until we stop demanding change. This is good news for us as we are soon able to create new neural pathways with consistent effort in our chosen direction. The ability to relax is like any habit and strengthens with repeated use.

* Increasing the flow of vitality through our muscles and joints:

[ ]Energy tends to have a sticky quality that can get snagged easily if the channels are not smooth and free-flowing
[ ]Our modern lives are one of the culprits for creating energy snags
[ ]Sitting in chairs all the time instead of sitting on the floor at least some of the time tightens us up
[ ]Change is a complex process and demands courage and some knowledge of where we are headed
[ ]Yoga helps us to let go into the momentum of the flow
[ ]As we flow more freely, our energy will become more dynamic
[ ]Allowing free-flowing energy promotes top conditions for health
[ ]No one is immune from the effects of moving their body in a way that resembles our ancestral movements
[ ]Yoga makes us more aware of our bodies
[ ]It’s easy to see why people become pleasantly addicted to the results and take it up with such fervour
[ ]Keeping it going as a practice can help us be more disciplined in other areas of our life
[ ]Practice demands controlled severity at times and yielding softness at others
[ ]Practical application of select styles of yoga is highly energizing and also promotes restful sleep
[ ]Eating moderately and enhanced will power around food ensures better success rates with dietary requirements
[ ]Our awareness increases tenfold and we learn to share respectfully what we have learned.

* Releasing tension and letting go of unhelpful states of mind: We can move swiftly through uncomfortable states of mind like depression and anger. The focus demanded by yoga will help us shift out of the thinking patterns responsible.

* Training our mind towards increased focus and discipline: When we learn the joy of repetition we know we have somewhere reliable to turn when things are tough, or a great channel for expression of our whole gamut of feelings and emotions. We can really learn to recognise the energies at play, and our awareness will soon pick up on what’s going on in other areas of our lives. It is training our focus and making us more available to ourselves.

In Summary…

Strong, disciplined people are products of strong disciplined minds. Fortunately for us the mind is forever responsive to training and the forming of new habits. If we view the mind as the search engine of the brain, just like it’s counterpart, the computer, we know we can always get updates, upgrades, change search engine providers and customize all the settings. This leaves our limitations in the hands of our creativity. The more creative we are, the further we can travel into transformation.

The Yoga of Art…The Art of Yoga

Different strokes, same destination…

If you think about it, making squiggles on the canvas is not that different from throwing shapes on the Yoga mat. Not really. Here’s how I arrived at that conclusion.

Firstly, the processes involve some very similar elements. Confronting the unknown, and overcoming fear based resistance is one such psychological similarity. As we approach our stations we are prepared for something to happen, but can never predict exactly what will occur. The brush strokes, and the moves we make are dependent on so many factors including the time of day, temperature, weather, and without a doubt our own mood and physical condition. The result, each time is a unique experience, never to be repeated. This is from where we can draw inspiration to continue. It feels good to have simply got over the hurdle of ‘beginning’.

Next are the deeper states which we may reach if we practice long and hard enough. There are many cultural parallels between the crazy yogi and the mad artist. Who hasn’t seen the madcap Indian Yogis with their shrivelled arms in the air, emaciated limbs and huge reefers blazing as they hang upside down in the lotus whilst squeezing their genitalia into pretzel shapes? So what about the artist, locked away in his attic, chasing his muse, then shagging her, drinking green stuff and cutting of appendages? Hmm? Looking familiar now isn’t it?

There is madness on the path to the Divine…

Turning up at the canvas is a form of Yoga; at least, in a classical sense that is exactly what it is (see The Eight Limbs). Yoga is simply a term to denote the ultimate potential of the practice you are undertaking. The term yoga signifies that you are about to ‘yoke’ your ‘everyday self’ to your divine self, your higher being or indeed, your creative muse. We are actively tuning in for divine inspiration, for the subtle language that flows through us as we move, informing us as to what we are as we stretch for the stars, flow from the brush and diligently follow the sensuous whispers, bringing us closer to our deepest feeling of freedom and aliveness.

Our practice is to stay in the moment. That’s where it all happens…

The present moment is the only moment in which we can become aware of, and accept exactly what is going on.

It means coming out of your head and grounding into your body.

You cannot do anything from your head alone…

We need to use our bodies to ground ourselves into the here and now long enough to download the information gathered whilst we were up there swimming in star dust. This is what Yoga is for. Use it…often!

Without thorough grounding, our flights of fancy are near to useless. Without flights of fancy, our lives are nearly useless…

This is where art and yoga must become one. The head of the Artist must join up with the body of the Yogi in order to experience enlightenment.

The Present is your eternal gift and your link with the rest of the universe. What you do with it is up to you, but being and artist and doing yoga are two very good routes to indestructible happiness, if you know why you are doing them and where you want to go. It’s not an external thing.

 Enlightenment is an inside job…

This is the kind of wisdom that Yoga will give you, and the same goes for art, if you do it like a Yogi does it!

Q: How does a Yogi practice art?

A: With intention and belief.

Intention to become wiser and belief that the process will facilitate that outcome.

We like to think that wisdom automatically occurs with age and yet those over forty, like myself know that it is hard-won, quite literally with blood, sweat and tears.

However, we are never immune from our own mistakes no matter, seemingly how many times we have been through a process; time and again we will let our attention wander, our quality guard down and take our eyes from the primary motivation. Bam! The work sucks or we injure ourselves on the mat by pushing when we should have been breathing and staying put.

Now is the time to change! Only now exists! Past and future are myth and  magic…unless you are Dr. Who of course!

So what happens when our ‘enlightenment’ crumbles and we can no longer see the way forward. This is when we need to take a well-earned break. A breath, an hour, a day, month, year…whatever it takes to reconnect with our truest desires and our deepest most virtuous motivations for doing what we love to do. This is the time to practice, for as long as it takes to regain your centre, then go further. You may never have to go down again.

Art and yoga both serve as excellent respite from life…

Once we have fallen into familiar ruts and without the ‘time out’ phases in our lives, we will continue to allow the ego to rule, driven by the fear of anything it can conceive, it will run us into the dirt and not stop to pause as we flounder in the mud we create with our own tears.

The shocking truth is that the ego self couldn’t give a toss about us! This is possibly the biggest paradox we must face because we have come to believe that the ego is our protection. It’s not!

The Ego or the little ‘i’ is the part of us that plays the many roles we particularly dislike; the braggart, the judge, the critic, the slanderer, the greedy one that always wants the biggest and the best. It is a fear based hangover from our survivalist genetic heritage. Paradoxically, it doesn’t really care for us in the way it says it does; it’s a ruse to allow it to survive; a lie that perpetuates it’s existence and we fall for it every time. Yet what are we without it and it’s ‘definitions’?

Art and yoga are doorways to our truest selves…the parts that transcend every label. Pure experience.

In reality the ego (I am this and this) has nothing to do with who we really are, however because we identify with its endless labels, naturally we have the potential to think of ourselves as being quite horrid. When the ego isn’t whispering noisy some-thing’s into our ‘mind ears’ we are usually quite unaware of our peaceful natures.

The truest self within us is not afraid, it is not greedy, or resentful…It is thoughtful, caring, peaceful, joyful and fun! Do you remember that side of yourself? How often?

Perhaps if you got on your yoga mat today or went to buy one, or went to paint that picture or learn how to draw you would begin to find your muse again. Perhaps you could give your mind a holiday, rest and take stock. Perhaps you could experience the stars as you reach and stretch. Perhaps you could feel your juices flowing as the paint drips…?

I recommend that you begin your practice today, whatever form it takes and learn how to stay closer to your true self, and before long, the whole world will open up like a lotus flower sprouting from the mud.

We are all the Buddha…Just like what the Buddha said innit?

Be the flower, not the mud