Are You Good at Yoga?

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New students often introduce themselves to me with the caveat that they are “bad at yoga” and it always gets me thinking – what is their idea of yoga that they think they can be good or bad at it?

There are so many images of yoga on social media, with people bending themselves every which way, we would be forgiven in thinking that that’s all it is. Creating an incredible shape with your body CAN be yoga, but yoga is so much more than just the shapes.

When people say they are good or bad, I think they mean that they have a hard time touching their toes or can’t do a handstand – that they are “bad” at the physical aspect of yoga. But I would argue that because yoga is a practice and not an accomplishment, you can’t actually be good or bad at yoga, you can only either practice it or not. Taking time to practice (in whatever form, physical yoga or not) means that you are good at yoga, because you are practicing, and practicing is what it’s all about.

For me, yoga is more about my state of mind and the small actions I take every day in accordance with my value system (developed with the help of yoga, of course), rather than what shapes I can accomplish with my body. The shapes are important, don’t get me wrong – the quest to achieve those shapes often allows us to understand and observe what’s going on in our minds and with our emotions. The struggle and slow progress of going from “basic” to “advanced” poses allows us to see our reactions, our thoughts and our feelings along that path. It allows us to have the space and time to notice what comes up when we are faced with challenges and adversity, and hopefully gives us tools for perseverance and resilience (i.e. breathing, letting go of limiting thought patterns that we weren’t previously aware of, connecting with our sense of self). It makes us step out of our comfort zones and helps us to grow and expand.

But yoga can also be practiced in other ways, and outside of the time spent “pretzel-ing” in class. In addition to the physical practice, we can practice yoga by staying present, by observing our reactions and emotions, by listening (to others, to our bodies and to our intuition), by noticing nuance and small joys in everyday life, and by being kind to ourselves and others.

So to anyone who has gone to class thinking that they are “bad at yoga” …. please let that idea go. You are at a class and whether it’s your first or 50th, the fact that you showed up and took time to practice, means that you are good at yoga. Keep it up 😊

I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a message in the comments, or find me on instagram – @laurenewilkie

Photo by Ali Schilling Photography

Giving and Receiving Abundance

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“It’s just like a magic penny. Hold it tight and you won’t have any. Lend it spend it and you’ll have so many, they’ll roll all over the floor!”

I’ve frequently been reminded of these lyrics in recent days.

At the beginning of this year, I was listening a lot to The Lively Show podcast, and it’s been delving deeper and deeper into the teachings of Abraham / Jerry and Esther Hicks, most notably, The Law of Attraction. I’d read about this concept before, but it always felt a bit silly to me – how can you think something into being? By focusing on your desire, you will be able to manifest and bring it to life?

But I had it all wrong. Jess Lively goes into much more detail on her podcast (which I would highly recommend checking out), but my summary is this: it’s not about wanting something so badly that you create it, it’s more about getting yourself into a state of alignment with that desire – finding that state or desire within yourself, which in turn attracts more of that state/desire to you.

This year I wanted to cultivate a sense of abundance in my life – not only financially, but also socially, culturally, and professionally. And I wanted to be able to share my abundance somehow in the world. I will admit, I have never been particularly involved with charitable or political organisations (unless posting about them on facebook counts as involved) – I have donated here and there to certain charities, but never with any kind of commitment. I try to spend my money consciously (with socially responsible organisations) as much as possible, and I go out of my way to help people when I see a need, but I don’t volunteer my time on a regular basis, and I very rarely give out money to homeless people on the street.

I still have a far way to go, but starting small and slow can eventually lead to an avalanche (I’m a big believer in the “one small change leading to a revolution” kind of thing). In an effort to both create more abundance and to share my abundance, I’ve been doing two things:

  • Telling myself that I am abundant (and listing the ways) most days. This is akin to a gratitude list, but just looking at it through the lens of abundance. I was really inspired by Che Dyer’s post about abundance affirmations.
  • Giving back and giving things out. I’m giving my change (and not just my pennies, but my pounds) to people asking, and making a concerted effort to donate time and money more regularly. In addition, I’ve been more willingly generous with friends and family (but ensuring I know my boundaries so I don’t end up resentful).

The result of these two small but regular actions is that I feel more abundant, more fulfilled and more at peace. Sometimes to have more, we need to give more, and to give more we need to feel like we have more. Taking time to notice what we have and taking time to give it away (which, for me, surprisingly, has had minimal impact on my time or standard of living), has made a huge difference in my mindset, which I’m sure has resulted in a more full and fulfilling life.

And although I’m not rolling on the floor in pennies (or pounds), I feel incredibly abundant. And that’s really what it’s all about.

I’d love to hear how you give back and what you do to bring abundance into your life. Let me know in the comments or find me on Instagram @laurenewilkie

Discipline vs Freedom

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I see discipline and freedom like two ends of a swinging pendulum. Trying to keep the pendulum centred and still is the challenge in a moving world.

With my yoga practice, I’ve spent time at both ends of the spectrum, and am now aiming for disciplined freedom – that sweet spot in the middle. Discipline fosters growth and learning, and freedom keeps things feeling light and fun, but too much of either good thing can be a problem. The best teachers I know have a healthy balance of both in their classes, and I am for that balance in my personal practice too.

Discipline

When I first started practicing yoga seriously, I had heard that in order to be a proper yogi, you needed to practice 6 days a week. Of course, I wanted to be a proper yogi (!), so rain or shine, aching joints or injured muscles, I got on my mat or went to class 6 days a week. My asanas “progressed” very quickly and I noticed a massive increase in both strength and flexibility. Along with the time spent practicing came a desire to achieve the physical aesthetic of various poses and to be able to tangibly see that I was getting “better at yoga” (I used quotes around all of these terms, because I don’t believe [now] that creating a certain shape is what being good at yoga is all about. See more about this at the bottom*). Because of this desire to achieve and progress – rather than enjoying practicing for the sake of practice – I suffered many injuries and mental anguish – beating myself up for not feeling motivated to get on the mat, and often struggling (mentally and physically) when I got there.

I felt so broken after a few months, that I had to reduce my physical practice, and (for a period of time) stop it completely in order to heal.  Continuing this level of discipline was not possible at that time, but it did provide incredible learning.

What I came to understand from this period of yoga practice, is that it was my ego pushing me forward. I was spending too much time in my mind and actually disconnecting from my body, not listening to what it needed. And I was comparing myself to others in classes, wanting to be at the same physical place/ability as them, rather than understanding and accepting where I was at that moment. The realisation that I could distance myself from my ego and connect back into my body, was a fantastic lesson that this period of discipline provided. The physical benefits of a disciplined practice – stronger muscles and the ability to move in new ways – were also noted, but understanding my ego, noticing my desire to achieve, and becoming aware of that unconscious comparison with others, had the biggest impact on how I live my life (and subsequently, my levels of contentment).

Freedom

After spending time feeling caged and feeling like I wasn’t a good yogi if I didn’t do a power vinyasa flow class 6 days a week, the pendulum swung. I discovered yin yoga and slow flow and started to rest, both in my life and in my practice (as someone who desires recognition through achievement, this was a radical discovery; resting was not only acceptable, it was also highly beneficial). I reconnected with what my body needed, continuing to notice when my ego reared it’s big head, and started doing my own thing within yoga classes. I modified poses, I used props when needed, I spent a lot of time in child’s pose. I even sometimes did a different pose than the teacher suggested (I did try to keep the intention of the pose within the new pose I chose). And in my personal practice, things got really soft and flowy, and I spent more time on my bum than on my feet (not a bad or good thing, just how it was). My yoga practice became all about moving in a way that felt good in my body, avoiding injury and not pushing or striving.

And again, I became friends with my ego. It still liked to flare up when other students “achieved” a difficult pose or when I needed to rest. But I learned to take the focus off of other students and focus only on what I was doing and how I was feeling. My practice became very joyful and I started to look forward to it rather than dread it.

I still took myself to a dynamic class now and then, and at times worked on a dynamic practice at home, but more often I kept things soft and easy.

After quite some time of practicing like this, I realised that I wasn’t learning anything new from staying with my soft practice. I had remained injury free and my body and mind felt good, but we can get to a point, whereby, in order to discover anything about ourselves, we have to step out of our comfort zone. That is the beauty of a little bit of discipline, doing something that we don’t really want to do. I realised that by always doing my own thing in class I was limiting my own learning and the possibility of finding a new way to grow – both in my body and mind.

The realisation came quite recently, so while on a yoga retreat with a teacher I wholly trust, I decided to see what would happen if I just did what she suggested, rather than changing the yoga to allow me to stay within my comfort zone. This teacher has an excellent balance of freedom and discipline and I felt safe to do this in her class, knowing that her sequences or instructions wouldn’t cause injury or harm.

I discovered a new sense of freedom and a better understanding of myself, once again getting to know my ego and this time making friends with my fear. So often we limit ourselves because of fear, but if we can get through to the other side of that fear, tremendous expansion and growth is waiting. I felt a newfound sense of contentment, and I was more able to understand and work at my edge – the place where I am both soft and striving, easy and hard. I found the middle of the pendulum.

Now back home, I’m working on finding that balance within my own practice. It’s not always easy, but having seen the two ends as well as the middle, I have an idea of what I’m looking for.

What’s on either end of your pendulum? What’s helped you find balance? I’d love to hear about it – send me a message or leave a comment below.

 

Photo by Ali Schilling

* Being good at yoga isn’t about being able to touch your toes or bring your foot behind your head. Yoga is about connecting with your body and learning to cultivate awareness of both body and mind. It’s about understanding patterns of reaction and learning how to use the mind consciously, rather than letting our thoughts and reactions control us.  I would argue that someone who is able to focus during practice, keep their attention in the moment, understand their own needs and limitations, and work at their personal edge (not pushing too hard, but neither being complacent) is actually “better” at yoga than a distracted yogi able to bend in all directions. Being flexible in body is a beautiful benefit of regular yoga practice, but that isn’t what’s it all about.