Heartfelt thanks to those that have contributed their personal stories previously. I believe there is great benefit in both the giving and receiving of these stories – another gift through yoga. Each of you have inspired me to contribute this reflection on my yoga journey thus far.
I began classes with Polly about six months after our school opened – a complete novice to yoga of any persuasion. A work colleague had recommended the school and when I retired from full time work I started classes. I have played many different sports throughout my life, had a career that required me to be physically active and have stayed reasonably fit. I consider myself to be a very practical person, the “doer”, the person to take on and achieve multiple tasks at once – like most mums really!! I would never have described myself as an emotional or spiritual person. If there was work to be done I could never be still and ignore what I thought needed to be done. That kind of driven personality combined with nurturing a marriage, raising three children, household duties and demands of a professional career often saw me exhausted. Sure enough I had some significant health issues to deal with as a result, but I still didn’t heed the warnings and slow down. So by the time I met Polly in my late 50s, I certainly was carrying a heavy load in my heart and body from past responsibilities, toil and worries.
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 and I relished the opportunity to explore this pathway into a part of myself that had been buried. Of course the catalyst in this process has been Polly. Polly is an excellent teacher who clearly “walks the yoga talk” but is also highly perceptive and shows respectful and sincere care for her students.
As an older student with physical limitations it is easy to feel disheartened when your body just won’t do what you want (despite diligent practice) and it looks so easy for others! I take encouragement from B.K.S Iyenga : ”even as the body ages and is able to do less, there are subtleties that reveal themselves, which would be invisible to younger or more athletic bodies”. While I continually try to improve my practice, I do my best and am getting better at feeling contentment in what I can attain. That’s a major attitudinal shift for a believer in “never give up, just push yourself a little harder and you’ll reach that goal”.
So yoga is bringing me a huge lesson in being kinder and more patient with myself. There is also an acceptance of my physical ageing and a realisation that this need not be an impediment to progress along my inward journey of discovery. Yoga is bringing a nourishing gift of calmness and joy. I can now allow myself guilt free time to practice and reflect. How good is that!!!
I had participated in a class with Caroline Coggan last year. So with child like excitement I was ready to start Caroline’s 2015 weekend workshop. The class last year had given me a glimpse of Caroline’s teaching style and I was keen to experience more. My impression is that Caroline has a gentle manner with joyful, artistic, spiritual tones. I love that she starts class with a reading of her favourite poetry, reinforcing her view that yoga is a creative and contemplative practice. This year Caroline led the start of class with chanting (totally new for me) which gave a serene resonation through the room connecting us all. Caroline is welcoming and encouraging to all students regardless of their experience. She also lets her humorous side show too and this reinforces her view that we should all enjoy our yoga practice.
As Polly so often says, our practice is our teacher. Caroline tells us that our practice should not be routine or repetitive – we need to be perceptive and responsive. Keeping that freshness, enthusiasm and openness to change in our practice is one of the reasons that a workshop with a different teacher can be beneficial.
New perspectives are gained through the nuances of different teachers. It can feel like a leap of faith to entrust yourself to an unfamiliar teacher, a step out of your familiar comfort zone. I’ve now had the experience of taking classes with three different teachers (other than Polly) at our school and each one has given me a gift of something unique to help my practice. It can be a subtle difference which might create that “lightbulb” moment when you just seem to feel it! Sometimes it has been through going back to explore in a different way a “simple action”, or using props in another way to work, or a different instruction, or a physical adjustment.
The level of absorption in a workshop experience is total and immense. When you release yourself into such sustained concentration and practice, time seems almost to stand still. Although the body does tire, I found a lightness and contentment was retained as the primary sensation.
The cumulative result of the weekend is that my home practice has been energised and my commitment reinforced. B.K.S Iyengar says, “ ...knowledge of yoga is no substitute for practice. Since the difficulties lie within ourselves, so do the solutions.”
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.