“HABITS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF INATTENTION” Benjamin Franklin.
Yoga postures are often done with the same tone that one would be driving, sitting, reading, or working. That is they are practiced habitually. Your practice is a moment-to-moment source of refreshing awareness, which when met with deep breathing, shapes the body from the inside as new spaces expand while moving and creating more. Your breath makes the unfamiliar, familiar. Finding one’s own Breath within practice will move one into the artistry of Yoga. The sculptor. The Yogi. Finding an inner space of peace and happiness. Focusing your mind on the pathways of breathing wakes us up from the habits that continue to trap energy, thoughts, muscle and attitudes that shape the body from the outside instead of from the inside.
Yoga, in its’ popularity has taken a very physical approach. Disregarding the essence of spirit within the practice expresses yoga as just another sophisticated exercise program. There is nothing wrong with getting a great workout with yoga. However, as a student matures in their practice, they will want something more, or yoga will just be on their list of “what they do, what they have done, and on to the next,” be it Pilates or any other new form of exercise away from yoga.
My teaching evolved from the tradition of BKS Iyengar. Iyengar brought tremendous awareness to the subtleties of asana practice. However, It doesn’t matter what style a student comes from, it matters where they are inside their practice. It can be a student of Iyengar, Anasura, Bikram, etc. If practice becomes mechanical then the essence of yoga is lost. New habits develop and old habits remain.
In the beginning of my yoga journey, I was young and ambitious and a good workout was all I cared about, but with maturity came an intriguing observation from my body adjusting to the changes coming from age and stress. In order to stay balanced I had to become much more subtle in my adjustments and my breathing as my postures began evolving to a new level of practice.
When I teach a class and I observe students falling into postures with little understanding of why and what they are doing, I know that there is something missing in their practice. When students are doing yoga habitually and mechanically, they are more likely to quickly grow bored with their practice. They move from their head rather than from their heart and from inner guidance. Habits in Yoga poses exacerbates the weak, sleepy areas becoming prone to injury since little awareness of balancing strengths and weaknesses leads to injury sooner or later. Often I will ask all of my students to find a new spot in the room to place their mats. Wow! What disruption that causes. Total confusion!
Yoga is transformational. Yoga asanas are playgrounds to explore the balance of your posture, lifting energy and refining your awareness of how you can move through life much lighter within your body. The element of surprise is lost upon the poor habits of one’s practice. Students react to their poses as though they are etched in stone. Whatever they did the last time they were in the pose, it is going to be the same. “This is where I was last time so this is all I can do today.” How do you know? Have you explored the possibility in this moment, in this breath? Our postures are not written in stone. When we move into a pose and decide without exploration, that this is it, we deny the potential for possibility. Each breath is unique and lends itself to new possibilities of movement and awareness in the poses.
Not only does the student want to pay attention to possible movement and alignment but also to dropping away of tension and secret stresses. Habit in posture creates tensions that when we are unaware of them will add to chronic pain and discomfort.
The art of finding, knowing, and refining one’s breath will develop one’s own confidence to find the excited and interested inner teacher sparking off constant revelations. Being in the presence of the breath leads to the freedom to create with Yoga. When there is an injury, there are poses to address it. When there is emotional upheaval, there are poses to soothe.
So the next time you step into your yoga class with your yoga mat, find a spot that you haven’t sat in before. Look for possibilities and be ready to be surprised.
When you are at the beach or a park, find a beautiful spot and strike a pose. Yoga is your ticket to freedom no matter what is going on outside of yourself.
©shelley piser 2009