Warrior Practise: Deepen your Yoga Practice through Awareness

When practicing yoga asana, ask yourself, where is my mind? This question should be visited time and time again while we practice. All too often our minds are somewhere other than with the sensations arising from the body, and those which accompany the breath, which is continuously arising and passing through us.

Minds are often filled with the echoes of judgments and frustrations. ‘I wish my hamstrings were more flexible’, ‘why am I so tight?’, ‘ he is doing that much better than me, how come?’, ‘ I can’t wait till I am better at this’, ‘oh yes, I can do this, really easy, I will just push a bit harder, even though I can’t actually breath at the moment’. I could carry this list on but I think you get the picture.

More often than not when judgments arise, tension within the body and breath will also arise. This can constrict and create instability in our yoga asana (posture) practice. We are so lost in the thoughts about sensations we are experiencing that we actually loose the ability to really FEEL what is happening in the body. This can halt our progress towards being at ease (without tension) within our practice, or can create a lose of integrity within the pose and increase the chance of injury.

The thing is if we try and stop these questions arising in our minds the likelihood is that they will just get louder, so what can we do? Firstly we don’t try and stop them. What we work with is not reacting to them, allowing them to arise, acknowledging their presence and then bringing our attention back to the sensations themselves, really experiencing the tingles, the pulsing, warmth, exploring whether the breath can breathe into these sensations and whether these sensations change and shift. Tuning into your body this way will inform you as to whether you are practicing ‘in tune’ with your body or, ‘out of tune’ with your body – which usually accompanies practicing beyond your capacity or working too strongly with self-image.

We can also explore the following questions while practicing.

Are You Sure?Me pose

Misperceptions can be a major root of instability within our yoga asana practice. We can ask ourselves if our perceptions are truly accurate, do they reflect reality or if in fact they are based on mis-perception, opinion and unskillful/unhelpful thinking. Is it truly a physical limitation that is keeping us from doing a particular asana, or is it a misperception of our ability? For instance we can stop ourselves moving further into a backbend through the fear that we have back issues, but through correct alignment, connection with the breath and sensations throughout the entire body, we can work mindfully through incremental progressions and thus deeper into the body. We can also approach asana without such awareness by pushing, grasping and forcing ourselves into the most precarious positions in the misperception that we have the openness and strength to achieve it. This is also a false perception.

What Am I doing?

If we stop periodically to ask ourselves this question, it can start to become a mindfulness bell that acts as a prompt to bring us back to the present moment. As discussed previously, our minds can often get lost in thoughts of past or future. You may be so caught in these thoughts that you are not truly aware of what you are actually doing. Sometimes we can find ourselves pushing in a pose so much that our breath has become restricted, our shoulders have become earings, and our forehead, well, it’s just TIGHT! By asking ourselves the question “what am I doing?” we are allowing some space and time to reexamine just what we are doing and why. We can then create the space to see how we may have got caught up in our ideas, notions, expectations and desires rather than paying attention to what is actually happening in our bodies, right here, right now.

Hello Habit Energy

How we act and behave in the world, and how we think, is often reflected in our yoga practice, and our way of thinking is in large part based on our habit energies – these are the habitual patterns of conditioning that too often dictate how we relate to ourselves and the environment. Our habits can be so ingrained, that we act out of them even when they make us sad or upset. Noticing them as they arise, acknowledging them, accepting they are there rather than feeling guilty or angry about them, or trying to change them, lessens their power over us. If we are perfectionists, notice how our hypercritical urge arises, making shoulders tense, hands and neck tightens, breathing becomes shallow, and all this without even the hint of any awareness. ‘I didn’t know I did that’ we often say.

When we notice such a situation arise, we say ‘hello habit energy’. We then create the space for a shift in this habitual way of being. For it is simply our habit patterns re-surfacing.

Notice when we are unable to do what we want to do in an asana how we can just stop being engaged, almost zone out, become disinterested, bring ‘hello habit energy’ and notice how we bring alertness and attentiveness back into our practice.

Bringing this friendly attitude to our habit energy, the very things about ourselves we have been unaware of become our teachers. By not rejecting them, but welcoming them we learn to understand them, and eventually they lose their hold on us. And at the end of the day, it’s worth remembering, all of our experience is our teacher.