Yoga and the City

Happy toes in the grass @ Templeogue College. Just finished a 45 minute meditation, lying in the grass waiting for the girls at gymnastics. Blue skies above me, sunlight coming through my closed eyelids, solid earth beneath me. There are opportunities for deliciousness everywhere. #yoga #yogaindublincity #meditationindublin

The Bother of Yoga

Over the years my yoga practice has changed. When I started my on again-off again practice in my late teens-early twenties, I was just messing around, saying Mu and reading about Tao and Zen. I’d have a look at the odd yoga book, but yoga books were few and far between back then, and have a go at doing some bendy postures. I found all of that handy enough. I was reading a lot of Blake poetry and having esoteric experiences. Not all of them drug induced, I assure you. My chief area of expertise was being a cool student. No mean feat, when you’re studying Law. Yoga, Zen and Tao fell victim of having a good time and that was it for a few years.

Then, in my late twenties, I started again. I got a better book and flailed around trying different moves, ignoring the pages with graphic descriptions of swallowing bandages to clean out your stomach! [Note to any new students of yoga: if it looks and sounds like a bloody stupid thing to do, it is a bloody stupid thing to do and no amount of ‘this is a five thousand year old practice from India you know’ is going to change that. Widows being thrown on their husbands’ funeral pyres is a long standing practice from India too. Anyone up for adopting that over here?] I tried meditating properly but gave up after a while. Then I found a video, a Power Yoga video, based on the Ashtanga Primary Series and that was the trigger I needed. I was fit and flexible already but what this video gave me, was a simple routine. Within a short time I was practicing for an hour at least every day. I could feel the progress in my body and mind. I had two young children by this stage, a job and a home to run and yet, I found time to practice. Chiefly because I wasn’t precious about it. We lived in a tiny house and had busy lives. I often read and hear from yoga teachers and gurus that the only way to develop your yoga and meditation practice, is to have a quiet place, a yoga space if you will, where you go to separate yourself from the world at set times of the day. Me arse is what I say to that. I practiced in our tiny sitting room with the kids watching Jumanji, the dinner on and the washing machine going at full tilt in the kitchen. I did one and two minute meditations. I zoned out looking at the sky and I showed off doing cartwheels to my kids’ friends. Believe me, nothing earns you respect as a Ma like doing a perfectly balanced head stand. [Except having a former career in hair-wrapping and selling Fimo jewellery out of a suitcase on Grafton Street, I’ve recently found out. Major kudos for me there.]

By this stage, my physical practice was very strong but my meditative practice was falling behind. The physical practice, the postures, is only one of eight limbs of yoga. Don’t even get me started on that. So, I found the FWBO. Say what you like about them (and many people do) the FWBO, Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, has made Buddhism and meditation accessible to Western people for whom the imagery and chanting and giving sweeties to statues, might be a cultural step too far. Going to that first meditation course, with Ratnabandhu in Dublin, where we were given clear instructions for two types of meditation, with homework and a set structure for practice for 5 or 6 weeks, kick started the spiritual meditative part of my practice, which had been a sorry affair since my teens. I am eternally grateful to the FWBO for that gift.

All of this led me to start my first, two year, yoga teaching diploma. It was followed by others, a one year Post Grad with Yoga Therapy Ireland and then too many trainings with some truly fantastic teachers to mention here. I’ve had the privilege of learning from some deadly people. For the first few years of teaching, my personal practice was still quite intense but then there began to be gaps. Say, where I was knackered or just, truth be told, bone idle and rather than do a bit of practice, I’d watch the telly. After a while though, I began to watch myself, to stand outside myself and watch what I was up to. I realised that I was still practicing but it might be just the practice of kicking the light switch on rather than using my hand or standing on one leg while I was at the cooker. My meditative practice was still happening, albeit intermittently too. I began to understand that, just as it is normal to have an ebb and flow of concentration during meditation, so it is normal to have an ebb and flow in practicing at all. Not that I’m saying that watching crap on the telly is of as much benefit to my life as being diligent about my physical and spiritual practice but you know, that’s life. Or at least, that’s my life.

Now I’m 48 and the practice I do varies wildly. Sometimes I do a really strong physical practice. Sometimes I do nothing for a week. My biggest challenge, when I’m practicing, is stopping myself from thinking about the people in my classes. I’ll be feeling my way into a postures or I’ll find a little tweak or move that’s a Eureka moment and I’ll straight away be thinking about who this would be really good for. I’ll get myself all excited about bring it to my classes and then I’m not in the moment at all. And yes, I get that this a First World Yoga problem but it is nevertheless, a problem. On the other hand, my most common practice, at the moment, is Restorative Yoga. Sue Flamm taught me all about Restorative Yoga and seriously, if you ever get the chance to even just hang out with this woman, do it! Anyway lying around with cushions and bolsters and belts holding and supporting my body, sometimes for hours on end, is my commonest practice at the moment. And I very rarely think of teaching and sharing the practice at all. Bone idle yoga suits me at present.

I guess the point of all this rambling about my lifetime of yoga practice [yes there is a point in here somewhere] is that the image of a clean living, rigidly disciplined yoga practitioner, perhaps in a nappy of sorts, perhaps in fancy leggings, doesn’t fit me and I doubt it fits most people. Of course I could be wrong there. It’s not unknown for me to get things arseways. But if you are finding it hard to maintain a lethal yoga and meditation practice, if you are finding it really hard to get up off the sofa to go to your yoga class, know that you are not alone and that you are entirely normal. Sometimes, were I not the actual teacher of the yoga class, I would no more drag myself out on a winter’s evening to go to yoga, than I would eat my own arm. And Holby’s on on a Tuesday evening! But have I ever, ever said to myself, at the end of the class, “God I wish I could have stayed at home and watched Holby at 8 rather than having to record it.”? Nope, never. Each and every time in those classes, my life is improved. By the end of some classes, when I’m expressing my gratitude to people for coming out to practice with me, I have to hold back tears. I understand that that could be a Menopause thing.

Finally, really finally this time, my point is, my practice changes from minute to minute, day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year. And yours will too. What suits you today may not suit you tomorrow. Go easy on yourself. Check out whether you are actually being bone idle or whether what you need is to be bone idle. Fit your yoga practice to suit your life. Have a gentle discipline when that’s what you need. Have a strong instructive discipline when that’s what you need.

And now, I’m done. Back to the telly. Chanting! Chanting! I meant chanting!