I’m always careful in my classes not to tell students how they should feel. It’s often tempting to say things like ‘You should feel a nice release in your hip flexor here’ or ‘Wow this will really help you feel a stretch in your hamstring’ but I’ve learnt it’s important not to, as what one person feels is not necessarily the same as another, and each person’s body and experience is unique. A yoga practice should be about noticing - that word mindfulness again! - and being aware of how you feel in a particular pose and whether it feels nourishing for you or not.
In my opinion one of the best things about a yoga practice is how it makes you feel - physically, emotionally, spiritually. I’ve been doing yoga for over 20 years now so of course I love it, and to me the question is more ‘why wouldn’t anyone want to do a yoga class?’. But if you haven’t experienced yoga for yourself yet then how can you know it’s not just some glorified hour of stretching which, frankly, you just don’t have time for?
A physical rush
A yoga practice is not just something to get done and ticked off the list like a workout, a run or cooking a healthy meal. Sure, it can sometimes be a push to get on the mat in the first place, but I always lose myself in the practice and invariably come out feeling physically a lot better.
When you achieve a challenging pose, for example that first time you float upside down into a headstand, it can feel totally euphoric. Similarly after holding a long, deep stretch, the release you feel when you slowly come out of the pose and take a moment to let yourself absorb the posture can be blissful. The moment passes pretty quickly though, which is why you have to enjoy it while it’s there. The gentle buzz after being in a bridge pose and slowly lowering your back onto the ground is priceless, and while there is the temptation to move onto the next pose, physically or mentally, it’s important to recognise that the physical feeling will fade after a few moments. It won’t be long so you might as well be in that moment and enjoy it while it lasts. This extends out into a more general mindfulness practice that isn’t just physical.
If you can learn to relax into the few moments of blissful release after a deep backbend before moving on, you can learn to relax into a fleeting moment of joy in the midst of a busy day - the first breath of fresh air as you step outside in the morning, a sip of strong, hot coffee, which will be cool soon enough, a brief smile from someone you love before they move on with their day.
What was the problem again?
One of my best memories of a yoga class was when I came out of a particularly deep and challenging practice to a crystal clear Autumn night which was just on the cusp of turning to Winter. Walking home I could see the stars and smell that crisp nighttime scent which hints at snow some time soon. I felt such clarity and perspective, a deep peace and a strong sense of being an integral part of the universe. The night was clear and so was my mind and my body felt strong and at ease. Any worries, preoccupations or concerns had just melted into the background. If we can come to the mat in knots and leave thinking, even if for just a moment, ‘What was the problem again?’ then we can be deeply rested in a way no nap or sleep can ever achieve. Of course it’s important to say here that yoga can definitely not solve all of life’s problems but for the time of your practice and afterwards there is the possibility of diving into a deeper sense of calm perspective, even if not for long.
There are plenty of studies showing that human connection can improve our overall health and wellbeing and feeling part of a yoga class, meeting the same people each week and practicing together can be a great way to build social connections outside of family and work.
The word ‘Yoga' itself means union and is often described as the union between body and breath. When you breathe and move through an asana practice or sit quietly in meditation, you are literally taking time to connect with yourself, getting to know yourself better and, while self care is possibly an overused term these days, ultimately paving the way to improved intentions of looking after yourself.
But the connection offered by yoga goes even deeper than that again. When we practice this body breath connection often enough through yoga, we can start to sense a deeper sense of connection to everything around us. As American astronomer Carl Sagan has famously said,
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are all made of star stuff”.
Can we start to tap into this reality that we are all part of the same universe and feel a connection to something bigger than ourselves, whatever we might believe that to be? So in short, yoga can offer opportunities to connect with others, with ourselves and with the world around us, to achieve a sense of clarity and perspective and of course to feel physically strong and at ease.
How does yoga make YOU feel? Let me know!