There is yoga. And then there is ‘Yoga’. I had always been a dedicated yoga student, until I met ‘Nico’. You can find Nico online – I was fortunate though to actually meet him in person. The experience that I had with Nico Luce at Earth Yoga in Palma, Mallorca, on his two-day workshop, appropriately titled “Awaken the Warrior Within”, changed the course of my yoga practice forever. I was inspired.
That being said, I have to admit that the whole experience left me wondering, too. What is the purpose of this advanced yoga practice? Twisting and contorting the human body into positions which, as a guy, you can only dream about. I am happy in my practice as it is, why would I want to push it any further?
Norman Blair, a leading UK yoga teacher, writes in his new book “Brightening Our Inner Skies: Yin and Yoga” that:
“fixation on posture means that we miss a lot of the yoga philosophy…. Yoga philosophy attempts to guide us towards living a better life, not necessarily wrapping legs behind heads nor bending backwards to hold ankles…”
All this is true. The original yoga sutras said little about posture. I certainly can’t do many advanced postures, yet I benefit enormously from the practice. My Friday evening class borders on ‘boring’ sometimes, but that does not stop me from being a disciple of my teacher as I strive to master the sequences that he chooses to take us through each week. He even warned me to be careful in my newly found exuberance for a more daring practice. Fair enough, I thought. The last thing I want is an injury which wouldn’t allow me to practice at all.
As we recently learnt, perfecting a practice is the careful balance between routine and resistance. We must strive to develop our abilities, but also be conscious of the games our minds play when we become comfortable in the practice – we must generate a strong determination to practice as well as push through the barriers that inevitably appear as we strive to improve our practice.
Nico’s class was no exception. Yet Nico’s class was also different. Different in a way that left me absolutely shattered and sore, but the teachings that I took from that workshop whilst we flowed and pushed ourselves through the sequence were remarkable.
As Nico gently intertwined the movements with the teachings of one of Yoga’s most seminal works, the Bhagavad Gita, describing the challenges that Arjuna faced as he came to terms with the prospect of fighting members of his own family, the lessons learnt gave me a new perspective on my yoga practice – and a new perspective on my life.
In our yoga practice, without strong hands, core or feet at the base of any posture, we are unlikely to be successful in our attempts to master more difficult poses. Similarly, strong foundations are the key to leading a harmonious and happy life. Maslow stated that security is the first human need that has to be satisfied in order for us to grow and develop. Without it, we cannot reach higher levels of satisfaction in our lives. As we strive to improve in our yoga practice, let us remind ourselves that whenever we wish to accomplish something in life, we also need to be centred and grounded as we embark on whatever we want to achieve.
2. Skilful action
Success in life is based on being skilful in navigating our chosen path. I have explained before that being mindful is a trait that many successful people apply in their lives, sometimes without even knowing it.
In our yoga practice, as we skilfully place our body in difficult postures, we are being mindful as we breathe through the posture in order to find the steadiness and good space of our practice. Being skilful on the mat then is a small subset of what it means to be skilful and mindful in our lives.
I have found crossroads too in my practice, and with the right skill and approach I have been able to improve and develop further. Last week I did the sideways crow (Parsa Bakasana) for the first time. And you know what, it wasn’t me being stronger or pushing through the barrier. It was being mindful of my technique, perfectly balancing the body as I leant into the posture, using the body as a pendulum as I gently tilted forward….Be skilful in your yoga practice, be skilful in your life.
3. Follow your heart
Is there anything more pure than moving your body, challenging yourself to take your practice to the next level? Movement is an expression of the heart, since when we move, we find the fire which is at the core of our soul. As Shiva Rea describes in her wonderful book, “Tending the heart fire”:
“the teachings and practice of yoga have always held the heart in both practical and mystical ways. So let us return to the power and magnificence of our hearts: heart as fire and heat. Heart as intelligent energy and electromagnetic radiance. Heart as our illuminating guide towards love, creativity, and deep knowing. May the journey begin now, as we awaken our direct relationship to our Heart Fire, both primordial and intimate”.
One of the most beautiful things in life is to follow your heart. By following our passion and love for yoga, or for anything for that matter, and our desire to improve and master our practice, we are honouring our heart. Our passion becomes our life. Time and again, I have heard people explain that they have followed their heart in whatever they have set out to do and they have been rewarded both emotionally and, at a later point, financially for doing so. Sometimes these things have a habit of taking care of themselves!
4. Attitude – Yes you can (or not)!
No, this isn’t a political slogan straight out of a US presidential campaign, it really defines the difference between success and failure in life, in everything we do. That presentation, that task, that new job.. nerves are natural, but those who are successful in life will back themselves to perform.
Mantras are a way of consolidating a positive attitude or belief to the point that it actually realises in our lives. The origin of the word comes from Sanskrit man (means to think) and tras (means instrument or tools). Therefore, it is a means by which we can train our mind.
Likewise, our attitudes to challenging postures will seal whether the posture even has a fighting chance. Doubt yourself and the end result is predictable. Back yourself, and you’d be surprised what you can achieve, both on and off the mat.
“Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right” – Henry Ford.
5. Create the life you want to create
By being the warrior within, Nico’s workshop showed that we can define the world we want to create and live in. By defining no boundaries in our practice, we set no limits; and if there are no limits, then there is nothing stopping us from achieving what we want to achieve. To me, this is pure freedom; our physical yoga practice becomes a metaphor of the life that we want to live.
My heart is burning with love. All I can see is this flame. My heart is pulsing with passion, like waves on an ocean. I’m at home, wherever I am. And in the room of lovers, I can see with closed eyes the beauty that dances. Behind the veils intoxicated with love, I too dance the rhythm of this moving world.
– Rumi (translated by Esmeralda Lamas, from tending the heart fire, by Shiva Rea).