Yoga is the lay persons neuroscience - Yogis have known for centuries that there are layers of mental activity that can be harnessed and directed. When attention becomes concentration and concentration establishes a pause between the rise and fall of thoughts, we arrive into a state known as meditation. The interconnections between the layers of consciousness create the conditions for wisdom.. it arises in the pause, in the interruption of habitual thought.
“As soon as there is stopping, there is happiness. There is peace. When we stop like that, it looks as if nothing is happening, but in fact everything is happening. You are deeply established in the present moment, and you touch your cosmic body. You touch eternity. There is no more restlessness, no more seeking.” Thich Nhat Hanh
As we hone our skills of discernment and tap into deep forces that pertain to balance, stability, heaviness, lightness, we are actually meeting fear and desire. We feel the tap of ignorance on our shoulder. Our perception of experience and the experience itself are not the same things. We know this in the very cells of our being… it is no longer a construct of understanding. It is an experiential truth. We can confidently and calmly accept that our mental faculty (memory and emotions) are bias. That our mental view is a construction that functions to keep our ego intact.
Due to poor balance I had never consider yoga was for me as the images most often seen in posters and magazines show perfect bodies with amazing balance. November 2014 a few weeks before my 71st birthday I walked into my first yoga class. Yoga is ideal for all seniors even those with physical limitations. In our classes it can be quite normal to have several variations of a pose to suit individual needs. Learning to work with your body not against it is the same challenge regardless of age. Nursing several old injuries I do not want to add to them, I am very grateful to have well qualified teachers who are attentive to my needs and dedicated to keeping all students safe whilst practising.
Fears and desires are reactions to the past and the future. Moment is the only place you actually live your life. Practise being in the power of your own presence. When we develop a practice of detachment, we learn to watch our desire for change and our fear that things may not change.
Practically speaking, when we are stiff in our hips and hamstrings our knees and ankles are ‘punished’. At some stage it is better to be accountable/aware of how to work with our hamstrings and hips so that the knees and ankles are able to get on with their work. It’s also the case in twisting poses that people twist into the flexible areas of their spine and in doing so completely miss the area that needs to be ‘accountable’: we are slipping around a stiffness and there will be consequences.
Life experiences are made into ornaments.. .. things that we glorify and hold on to.. things that we attach to for self esteem and identity. A teacher of yoga, teaches the practices of Abhyasa and Vairagya: Discipline and Renunciation. These practices develop clarity of perception. They teach us to put the ornaments on the shelf so that we may experience ourselves as Yoga.
Only when we are sick of the suffering, when we have reached a place where actions and effort feel hollow or meaningless; or the thrill is just not that big a thrill anymore; or when happiness is mixed with self-doubt and we find ourselves on auto pilot; when we feel brave enough to admit even one of these things to ourselves about ourselves, then we are ready to pose the question of contentment, forgiveness and a life of peace, then we are tilling the soil in which a yoga practice can spout Yoga.
When our mind set is toward the body as an 'ornament', we engage with it in ways that glorify performance. Actions inherently serve no practical purpose. Whereas when we engage with the body as an 'instrument', we are concerned with the capacity of the instrument to harmonize within its context or circumstance.
Letting go of the fight response and understanding that the mind can influence the pain response was the first step. Appreciating that my body has served me extremely well through 60 years of exertion and should not be expected to perform like a 30 year old, came next. That meant accepting my limits with a new calmness and humility rather than anguish and stress.
When we go camping, we sit in awe of the magnificence of the mountain, the oceans, the sky. We go there because we recognize that some thing changes within us when we sit quietly within the wonderment of nature. We say "I am different", "I am happier", "I am energized", "I am more content". When we practice yoga we learn to sit in the wonderment of our embodiment. It is our microcosm of the macrocosm of nature. We recognize that being in the power of our own presence is a practice of being at one with the forces of nature.
Many of us lead busy full lives rich with experience, and yet we have a sense of meaninglessness. We are unsatisfied and long for something that we do not even know what it is. The neural pathways that make us live and act like it is ‘ground hog day’ are pretty much hard wired in to us after the age of about 12. We have learnt to measure our worth based on what we do and even though we give lip service to the belief that we are okay to be ourselves and that we are just fine, deep down we know that we are controlled by what others think of us. And what’s more, our internal dialogue agrees.
If you asked me 12 months ago, about my interest in yoga, my answer would have been a very quick and definite ‘NO interest at all’. Why would I want to do something like that? I didn’t know much about yoga but what I did know is that it was slow, you listened to relaxing music and you didn’t wear shoes. What sort of exercise is that - no shoes!
It was great to have my mum join me, she is the person who aside from my husband knows me best. She has been watching my mind click over from the days I explored my very first emotions. We would leave class and then just talk, discuss, ramble even about the finer points of class that really resonated with us. Polly seemed to speak as though she understood the journey we were just beginning personally and it was incredibly comforting as though we were headed in the right direction.
My happiness depended on my wife’s happiness, the children’s happiness and extended families happiness. If they weren’t happy, I wasn’t happy. I would get down easily and stressed a lot. I would argue with my wife and the relationship began to grow distance between us.
Before yoga I was heavily involved in sport up to a National level. Rugby League gave me a few broken bits and pieces. Acrobatics strained a few ligaments and muscles. Swimming and lifesaving from an early age meant that I was muscled before puberty and this left me with hunched shoulders and a body that I was not sure how to carry. (Of course I didn’t realize this at the time).
” I always knew that my husband and family were fed up with my anxiety but I couldn’t help it. The fear of something happening to Aaleah (6) and Lucas (3) washed over me every time my kids tried to be……..well let’s face it, be Kids!!! I would watch other kids my children’s age jumping off high beams or flipping around monkey bars…….. But not my children as they took each step cautiously and with fear…fear that I had given them."
I’d never once considered staying home to care for the small person we’d created to be a legitimate, worthy choice and I struggled a lot with accepting this and “lost” myself a bit in the process. If only I had yoga in my life at the time! But I didn’t...so in order to regain a sense of normality and self I started distance running again, something which I enjoyed immensely and did a lot of before, and to a lesser extent during my pregnancy.
My mother had Alzheimers. She had not been with us for many years although I always felt her with me. I had made the decision not to be with mum when she passed as I had said my goodbyes on previous trips home. Yoga helped me to make a decision on what I felt was right for me at that time not what I felt I should do.
I was a little wary when on the first evening Caroline said that she would commence the class with a chant, and if we were not familiar with the chant, we could all join in for the three Om’s. From the moment the vibration of the first Om emanated around the room, I was overcome with emotion and began to shed tears. My logical brain knows that sound has vibrational energy , but my emotional heart had forgotten it, and as soon as it felt it, my soul remembered.
What initially drew me to yoga was that it simply offered a new opportunity to maintain my fitness. However I was hooked from the very first class and very quickly became intrigued with the notion that practicing this physical discipline could develop a deeper self awareness and bring a more harmonious connection between mind, physical body and emotion. This was all new territory for me. I relished the opportunity to learn more and explore this pathway into a part of myself that had been buried.
“I remember my first meeting with Polly, walking through the studio, seeing all the ropes and props and coming away unsure of what to make of it. I remember speaking to my family and best buddy and telling them I would “give it a go”. I felt a very sincere, deep connection with this teacher Polly and something was telling me trust that instinct....