Don’t just ‘do’ yoga – live it
In class, outside of the studio and in this blog, I always try to share the fact that yoga is so much more than just a physical practice. To me, yoga is all about the union of the mind, body and spirit, and this is really a concept so big it can be difficult to define. But put simply: the more you practice, the more you will understand that you don’t just ‘do’ yoga, you also live it.
The truth is, if you can breathe, you can do yoga and technically you don’t even need to step foot inside a studio. Logically however, practicing in the studio will help you reach the point of living your yoga – the more you practice, the more breathing and meditation you do, the closer you will get to reaching this union. It doesn’t happen overnight, but slowly, over time, you will notice changes start to happen in your mind, your body and in your life.
For me, I began to notice these changes as soon as I started up a regular practice in 2006. I’d go home from class with a lot of questions in my mind – why is this happening, I don’t understand, I feel weird, I feel different, why, why, why? Then I began to dig, dig, dig and I went deeper into the practice and as you start to understand more, you continue to want to know more. And then you learn more, and then you practice more, and you learn even more again.
Bikram tells us we need to practice every day for two months to build the true foundation of a practice and to feel the changes in your mind, body and spirit. After this, a well-trained teacher can help you build on this. The teacher needs to know where to bring you though – it can’t just be about holding your leg above your head to concentrate. After all, you can’t take a photo of concentration!
Another teacher once told me, after coming back from training in India, that the guy you see cleaning the streets may be more yogic than all of those people in the USA and Europe putting their legs behind their heads. He is devoted to what he does, devoted to god – and it’s true. Today’s yoga seems to be all about selling and ego. On one hand – whatever gets you on the mat! If you start a practice because you want a better body, or you want to lose weight, at least you have started a practice. Then the day will come, where – like I did – you want to start digging yourself. You want to read a book or two about yoga. And this is where you start to live your yoga.
Understanding why we do the breathing and meditation we do really helps. The renowned yoga instructor Leslie Kaminoff once said, ‘Yoga without the breathing is just gymnastics.’ When you can maintain the breath and balance the nervous system through yoga, you really see and feel the difference. Living yoga is about awareness. Awareness of what’s around you, awareness through the senses – our senses function much better with a lot of practice as your central nervous system starts to function better – and you become more in tune with reality. Yoga gives you stability of the mind, balancing the left and the right side of your brain. If the body is healthy, the mind is healthy too.
Most of the work I do with my students is outside the class. It’s a bit like being a psychologist – you have to understand who you have in front of you and interpret how they need to be pushed or encouraged, and know their limits. Some students come for the physical, some for the mental and others for the spiritual. But I always try to encourage my students to learn more and to become more conscious. How can they be more conscious? By practicing more! The physical, the mental, the pranayama and meditation.
With the Hot Yoga Ibiza students who have a steady practice, I see their minds start to open and I notice them questioning the things around them. I see them begin to live their yoga. I hear them say things like, ‘Yoga changed my life, I make better decisions,’ and I’ve even seen people who have quit their jobs or left their partners due the awareness creeping in. It’s the consciousness growing, and learning to be more in love with yourself and respecting yourself more that leads to this. You know when something is not what you want, when it is not what you deserve – this comes from practice.
Today, I try to live my yoga in all aspects of my life. I try to stay focused – it’s not always easy – and I try to observe the way I react to things, the way I think. I try to always do good around me, I never do anyone any harm, I take care of my diet and I try to make a better world around me. These sound like small things but they can be difficult. If you have a few days without practicing, it is easy to slip back into old habits, but it’s important to remember, if you cannot practice physically, you can still do something like a pranayama, or a meditation. This is still yoga.
The physical poses were originally just designed to prepare the body to sit in Padmasana (Lotus) for many hours while they meditated. Today we do them because we sit in chairs all day, have a bad back, or a bad body, and it’s the best way to combat this – but it was never the most important element of yoga. And it never will be…