Mindful awareness

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Yoga as Exploration

Yoga practice is much more than stretching and strengthening the body. If practiced with a sense of wonder and inquiry, yoga asanas (poses) can also help stretch and strengthen one’s mind and attitude. Expanding our sense of who we are requires a curiosity that can be cultivated on the mat and can stimulate our personal growth off the mat.

There is no one way to practice yoga. It is easy to discover different ways to move and reflect with so many types of yoga styles. I learned how to sequence asanas from one to the next by practicing ashtanga. I learned patience in staying in asanas by practicing Iyengar’s method. I learned how to be creative and playful by practicing vinyasa. I learned to be still by practicing restorative poses. No one of these styles serves me every day. I switch between the styles and use lessons from each at any given time – both on and off my mat.

Even within the same style, every instructor brings his or her own biases and backgrounds into a class and each studio offers different interpretations on what is yoga. The atmosphere can be more or less friendly and the music more or less soothing. Scents and colors of different studios also either draw me to or away from them. Sometimes I need more quiet. Those are the days I practice restorative poses and cancel my social engagements. Sometimes I need to challenge myself to extend past what I always do. That is when I seek out a different instructor or learn a new variation of a familiar asana.

I’ve challenged students to explore and discover something new in their practice. What happens if you stay in the pose a little longer; can it change the way the pose feels in the hips or the way your mind reacts? What happens if you change your gaze; does it feel different or provide a different perspective? What if you use a block or strap; does it change the expression of the asana? What if I change my verbal prompt; does it change your understanding of the pose? My intention is for students to learn more about their bodies, attitudes, and yoga practice. I invite them to continue this sense of discovery when they leave the studio and enter the real world.

Curiosity to learn more about our body’s movements and our mind’s attitudes helps us to do something slightly different. In our practice that might mean trying a new asana, teacher, or studio. Off the mat it might mean striking up a conversation with a stranger, entering a new vocation, seeing an issue from a different perspective, or trying a new ethnic cuisine. Curiosity supports our exploration that leads to new discovery. There is no such thing as success or failure in exploring something new and discovering something different about ourselves. Expanding our bodies and minds through exploration brings growth and that can only be a good thing.

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