"The goal is to love, well.... You."
Happy Valentine's Day yogis!!!
I am always uncertain as to whether to mark this day or see it as special or different to any other day. Do we really need a special day in the year giving us permission to show love to our dearest ones - shouldn't love be something we invite into our lives on a daily basis?
Since beginning my journey of finding greater strength and ease of living through my yoga practice, expanding my awareness of my Self through my daily practice of meditation, and training as a teacher to pass the wisdom of yoga on to others, I realise more and more every day why we have really been put on this earth - to love. Love is why we are here - yet this truth is so often forgotten. Our fragility as humans so often results in love giving way to fear. And so perhaps any reminder we can possibly get to invite more love into our lives isn't such a bad thing.
I love this quote from Rachel Brathen aka Yoga Girl about re-framing our need to strive, attain and accomplish and instead giving way to feeling. Only then are we able to make space for ourselves and for love in our practice and our lives.
"Come to your yoga mat to feel, not to accomplish."
Bringing this principle to the mat changes the stories we tell ourselves and can be truly transformative. As we practice with greater awareness of how we feel, our focus begins to shift away from "I'm not good enough to do this pose yet" to "what about this pose can I do?" We allow ourselves the space to be curious and explorative, and to try new things that might feel good. We are also able to soften into our own unique expression of each pose, forgetting what the aesthetics look like and rather, observing how we feel and how we approach the challenge.
After all, we practice to feel nourished, held and supported rather than burnt out. Life gives us too many opportunities to burn out, and yoga practice should not be one of them!
Allowing myself to feel deeply within my practice is something I have only really started to truly experience through my recent studies in Forrest Yoga. In her book Fierce Medicine, Ana Forrest explains how to "track through feeling" in the body as we practice specific poses. The Forrest system is a highly energising yet therapeutic practice designed to help practitioners release tension stored deeply in the tissues, and is known to help release deep-set trauma. My Forrest teacher, Janet McInnes at Leith Yoga, also uses Thai Massage techniques to help shift deeper layers of tension as the pose is held, to wonderful effect. An element of ceremony and sharing reminds us that the process of self-healing is an important one that we must show up and be present for.
"The yoga pose is not the goal."
As an Ashtanga yoga practitioner who feels more at home with the idea of advancing through the sequence and striving to improve in my practice (keep moving with the breath, 5 breaths and on we go!), I am only just beginning to get used to stopping and giving myself the space to truly experience my body and mind in a pose. And I am finding that this new approach is bringing me more balance, ease and openness in life off the mat. In Ayurvedic terms, I am a pitta dosha, and therefore like so many of us I am wired to strive and move forward and I rarely allow myself enough time to rest and relax. I am not alone here.... many of us experience burnout as a result of being busy, always striving for that goal that lies just out of reach. This can stop us from connecting to true feeling in our hearts and from recognising the abundance of love that is always available to us, and is ever present behind the veil of action and busy-ness.
If this is you, and you find it hard to slow down and relax, you may find you are drawn to a dynamic (or 'yang') practice such as Ashtanga or Vinyasa yoga. However do keep in mind the benefits that can be found in a more restorative form of yoga, or any form of yoga that gives you the chance to pause and simply...be. To watch your breath and experience your body and mind fully through the poses is an incredibly healing thing.
If you still seek a challenging practice, try Forrest yoga. If you identify a need for a more restful form of yoga, perhaps restorative or Yin yoga is for you. On a mental and emotional level, yin yoga allows the body to drop down into the parasympathetic nervous system, and therefore becomes deeply healing and nourishing for both body and mind.
No matter how rough life gets, we all have things in our lives to be grateful for. Even in the darkest times, we can find sources of inspiration and light. When approached with the intention to feel rather than achieve, yoga can help us to explore, experience and feel more deeply the love that is already present in our lives, not just on this day, but every day.