October's Yoga Workshop - Explore and Discover - YOU and YOUR Practice
This month's Yoga Workshop Day at the Funky Aardvark, saw a sell-out day, full of physical yoga, breathwork, helpful hints, tips, theory and good food to keep the troops fuelled for the whole day. Read on, for a recap of the full day.
The day focused on working through the Ashtanga Primary Series. Being for beginners and regular yogis, the full Primary Series was split over the day with a morning session working through the majority of the Sun Salutations, Standing, Balancing and Seated postures, before breaking for some well needed grub. Following our break, the afternoon session saw everyone winding down (and having a good giggle) practising inversions from the Closing Sequence.
Ashtanga Yoga Tradition
Traditionally, the Ashtanga Primary Series is HARD! It's fast-paced, moving from one challenging pose to the next, with the breath, and can take anything up to 2 hours in an Ashtanga led-class. It needs full concentration, focus, determination and dedication. A wandering mind, leads to a wandering and wobbling body! It's strict in its form, methods and techniques and props, such as blocks and straps are not advised. Power through without! It's heavy on the upper body with lots of Sun Salutations, planks, up-dogs, down-dogs and Vinyasas, as well as being able to hold your entire body weight on your hands alone! I strongly believe that yoga is for EVERYONE and that includes Ashtanga! How can you master if you can't even learn? The key is to modify!
The power of ashtanga...
Ashtanga Yoga is a great style of yoga to practice. I fell in love with it many years ago and still love that glowing and energised feeling after a practice. Mastering some of these poses can take a lifetime! So why bother? What other 'exercise' (and I use that term lightly) uses all the muscles in the body and benefits your entire body from your liver to your nervous system? And I mean every muscle - what other exercise requires you to squeeze your anus?
What do you need most to practice Ashtanga yoga?
Flexibility doesn't even come into it so forget that! The most important tool we all have is the breath - so let's sit down and breathe. Take a few minutes to inhale deeply and exhale deeply. Repeat and focus. Focus on the breath. Focus on the inhale. Focus on the exhale. Now, how do you feel? What's changed? Remember this when you're in that tricky pose, your balance is off or that back foot is starting to wobble. Just breathe. It will help you bring your mind back around and focus on what you're doing. The more focus you have, the more you will get into the pose. Or go deeper into the pose, as we often say.
Connecting the mind
Yoga is about connecting the body with the mind - controlling the mind requires training just like a muscle. While you sit quietly, focusing on your breath, what's happening with your mind? Are you thinking about what's for dinner, or what do you have to get done at work? As soon as you start thinking about anything else, you are loosing control of the mind. Bring it back to where you are and what you're doing. Inhale. Exhale.
Yoga helps you control the mind by giving you these challenging poses to focus on. There is never just one aim to a pose. Even in a simple pose like the forward fold, you are having to think about rooting down into the ground with your feet, pulling up through arches and the knee-caps, engaging the thighs, letting the head relax down, hollowing out your pelvic cave to create space to fold, engaging the core (bandhas) pulling up through your two fingers, bending the elbows out to the side and surrendering further into the pose on your exhale, your gaze and of course, your breath!
Ashtanga Yoga helps you to control the mind by teaching you discipline through a set series of postures. Difficult poses to focus the mind, and a concentration to develop the breath. If you fully immerse yourself in the practice, then you're not thinking about what you're going to wear to the pub tonight, who's picking up the kids or anything else for that matter.
A technique to tune into the mind, is to observe the body at all times. In each pose you get into, observe your body - how do I feel? For example, what's happening to my thighs in Chair pose? "Oh, they're burning!" Just observe. "Yes, they're burning." It's a pain but it's not a bad pain that will see me going to hospital so just observe. Maybe think about your original focus, whether that's to stretch, relax or go deeper. Whatever it may be, observe your practice and bring the mind back.
This is the most important tool you have to help you develop and get the most out of your practice. Understanding where you are and what's right for you and your body will help you achieve more than you can possibly imagine. There's no point going into a pose because everyone else is doing it. If it's not right for you back out and focus on having strong foundations, better alignment or lengthening the spine. There is always something to work on so do what's right for you and not for bendy Wendy on your left!
A True Yogi
A yogi isn't someone who can jump into lotus pose or whip their leg around their head? It's someone who knows their body. The most important thing is knowing your body and its limits - knowing when to move up to next level or focus point - this is how you deepen your practice.
Explore and Discover
The workshop involved lots of different abilities, from complete beginners to regular yogis, so the focus for the day was different for everyone. Understanding and observing each and everyones own body was the key to a successful day. Exploring poses that we've never tried before and observing the body each time. Is this right for me? How do I take it back a level? How do I modify? Do I need stronger arms, legs, core, etc? Right, that's my focus for this pose.
Explore, discover and above all, enjoy!