Philosophy corner three: Why do you practice yoga?

So this blog was started by an innocent question from a friend of mine. He casually asked one day: ‘Why do you practice yoga’?

On the surface it was easy for me to list the obvious things; I think it’s good for my body, it helps me feel calm and centred, its nice for me to be part of a wonderful community. But actually yoga in it’s fullest expression has an incredible depth and richness that goes far beyond those things. The truth is that yoga has profoundly shaped how i see the world and it helps me view my thoughts, words and actions with clarity.

However I recognise that when i teach yoga that room full of people in front of me will all have their own individual answer to the ‘why do yoga’ question. For some they will have stumbled across the practice at a gym or nearby class and not really think about why they like it. Others will have been recommended it by a professional as a tonic for everything from anxiety and depression, to sciatica and high blood pressure. Then again the person on the next mat along may see yoga as a profound spiritual practice and care little for the physical benefits of practice.

So with all those different ideas in the yoga studio how does a teacher cater to everyone’s needs? Well actually i don’t aspire to cater to absolutely every possible yogi aspiration. For lots of reasons a student might suit a different type of practice to what i teach. For example its not appropriate for pregnant students to attend a flow based class in a hot studio. Equally some students might find they are in a class that doesn’t feel dynamic and challenging enough for their needs.

My regular students will know that I like to start classes by asking students to spend a moment or two reflecting on what their aspiration, dedication or intention is for that day’s practice. If you’re confused about setting intentions there is a lovely blog on this subject by Kathryn Budhig here. As students stand side by side in tadasana at the start of the class they may look similar from the outside but their individual experience can be infused with intentions that make the practices completely different.

Yoga is personal to each individual. Last week I had a magical day when I watched a child with autism engage in yoga helping them with their sensory needs and to make sense of the highly confusing world around them. On the same day I discussed with a student who works in the police how she feels yoga helps her in difficult confrontational situations. Worlds apart but valid and useful in both contexts.

There is no right or wrong answer to ‘why do yoga’ question. For me I don’t think there is a hierarchy of aspirations that makes spirituality for example, any more worthy than the goal of physical fitness.  As Max Strom says everyone must “start where you are, with what you have, do what you can”. We might also find that aspiration shifts from day to day, or in bigger ways as months and years go by. Whatever intention you use, knowing why you’re on the mat and what you want to get out of the practice will give you a different experience. It might be your reason for exploring that asana a little bit deeper, having a go at a difficult pose or simply not just hanging out in the pose whilst the mind drifts elsewhere.

One of my favourite teachers Katy Appleton used to talk about ‘IKEA yoga’ like flat pack furniture we might sort of follow the instructions we’re given but without being present to what we’re doing maybe we end up with something a bit half hearted, that is not quite right. It’s not necessarily about finding that picture perfect pose, but rather by working with a clear intention, we use our mind’s fantastical power within the practice of yoga.

I’d love to hear your thoughts… why do you do yoga? what is your experience of using intentions?   

setting intention

Community

Philosophy Corner part two: Community

all rights reserved by ian sane

all rights reserved by ian sane

This weekend I spent a lot of time enjoying the wonderful Made in Roath festival. On Friday there was an artists meeting called Settlement based at Spit and Sawdust (a new skatepark in Cardiff). I wondered if I might feel a bit out of the loop as whilst i enjoy making art, i am certainly no artist. But the main subject of discussion: how to participate positively in the community around you, is something i feel passionately about so i found i had plenty to contribute and ponder during the day. I also enjoyed the opportunity over the weekend to chat to many of my neighbours, many of whom I have scarcely even noticed before, let alone talked to.

In yoga most of us don’t practice alone, or not always at any rate.We join a community in the form of a class, a workshop, kirtan (for chanting), meditation, a retreat or a lecture. These days knowledge of yoga is everywhere. We can buy a book or a dvd or even join one of the many online yoga studios. But still most students seek company for their yoga practice. There are many reasons for this, the opportunity to work with teachers or even gurus directly, the opportunity to find like-minded students who are perhaps on a similar path or just a shared energy directed at the same purpose which supports you. I have been privileged to meet so many wonderful people in my life through yoga – teachers, friends i’ve practiced alongside and now increasingly students.

But just as I felt like an outsider at the art event I think many people feel that way about  joining a yoga class for the first time. Aside from not knowing what to expect – there are so many new elements to digest. Foreign sounding names for each position or even just getting used to deep steady breathing or lying on the floor with your eyes closed to relax at the end of class. There has also been some brilliant debates recently about yoga’s image problem (that it is only for white, thin, flexible women).

I enjoyed Settlement on Friday because everyone made me feel very welcome and addressed me as a member of that community. So i implore those of you who are nervous about trying yoga to come and see for yourself. Likewise I think every yoga student has a duty to welcome other students and help them to develop and thrive as part of the yoga community.

Modern life can sometimes encourage us to become very self-involved. We are worried about our jobs, our partners /families or our homes. Perhaps sometimes we forget to look out for the person next to us. For me that is where community starts. To look out for someone struggling or vulnerable near you (maybe at work, on your street or in the yoga studio) and if possible offer a hand. So that is going to be my intention for this week- feel free to make it yours as well.

On the yoga front I am now teaching two hot yoga classes every Thursday at Yoga Fever 6pm and 7.30pm. Classes are almost always full so you need to book ahead of time to secure a spot. There is also a brilliant fundraising event showing the film Maya on the evening of 1st November – come join us at Stretchy Suzies and help raise money for local charity the Wallich Centre. I look forward to welcoming you in our community soon.

Updates on summer yoga

I feel hugely blessed and inspired this month to have been able to teach so many lovely students in a huge variety of settings this summer – from Cardiff International Pool, Hot yoga studios like Seren, to the park, by the beach and even a hospital. 

Being part of the first ever Gower Yoga Festival was pretty magical a few weekends ago. The weather was kind enough to stay fairly dry and so i taught outside in this beautiful location by the beach and ran a discussion group on becoming a teacher on Sunday lunch. I also had the opportunity to talk to lots of other yogis and attend workshops on everything from singing to zenergy. 

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Another huge source of pleasure this summer has been my outside classes in Roath Pleasure Gardens. Each week students have turned up and focused on their practice even with a few errant dogs running around our feet, grunts from the tennis courts and the gentle hum of traffic. You guys have been fab! We are finishing this series with a special event this Thursday with all donations going to DEC (www.dec.org.uk). Please do come along if you can, bring your friends and family. Join us at 18.30 in the park this Thursday for this special last session.

yogis

Finally I am very excited to say that from September I will be teaching at Yoga Fever – a hot yoga studio in Splott. They tend to be fully booked so if you want to come to class make sure you reserve your spot via the Yoga Fever website

yoga fever

August dates – yoga classes near you

 

seren

Hi guys,

So here are my plans to teach in August – there may be a few more bonus sessions if I can fit them in. Feel free to contact me if you are keen to arrange a private 1-2-1 session or small group class. I can be contacted on email , twitter or Facebook

Otherwise see you on the mat in one of these sessions.

This week

  • This thursday (31st July) catch me at Roath Pleasure Gardens 6.30pm*. As always please bring a mat/old towel, something warm and the class cost of just £4. Beginners and more experienced yogis welcome.

Next week

  • Tuesday 5th August 7.30pm Seren Yoga Hot class (www.serenyoga.net) £7.00
  • Thursday 7th August 6.30pm Roath Pleasure Gardens 6.30pm, £4*
  • Friday 8th August 6.00pm Seren Yoga Hot class £7.00
  • Saturday 9th August – sunset yoga session at Gower Yoga Festival 

Week starting 10th August

  • Sunday 10th August – discussion about training to become a teacher at Gower Yoga Festival – more information here Gower Yoga Festival
  • Thursday 14th August 6.30pm Roath Pleasure Gardens 6.30pm *
  • Friday 15th August 6.00pm Seren Yoga Hot class £7.00

Week starting 17th August

  • Sunday 17th August 10.30am Seren Yoga Hot class £7.00

Week starting 24th August

  • Friday 29th August 6.00pm Seren Yoga Hot class £7.00
  • Sunday 31st August 10.30am Seren Yoga Hot class  £7.00

* These sessions will be weather dependent – any cancellations will appear on this website. Please note there will be no session on w/s 17th or 24th August.

 

roath park yoga

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Looks like the weather is once again going to be kind so there will be relaxing yoga in roath pleasure gardens this Thursday 6.30pm.

I have really enjoyed teaching over the last few weeks meeting new people from the area, helping people try yoga for the first time or for others to get back into a regular practice.

Everyone is welcome at the class. You’ll need a mat or old towel to work on and something warm for the relaxation. It costs £4. Classes start promptly so please try to arrive a few minutes early.