Commitments, of which there are so many – musings of a yoga teacher 

Yoga teachers hang in schedules for years to hold students and offer a routine for people to learn the art of yoga. It starts with a commitment on our part that we adhere to over months, years and into decades.

The advent of covid saw many teachers pivot to online learning and in order to move with the wave of uncertainty we fulfilled a need for people to have some flexibility with their yoga and make classes available in the digital space.

What yoga requires first and foremost is a commitment to ‘envelope time’ (as put by Stephanie Quirk) for practice and getting to classes. Another commitment, on top of the multiples we already have, really? 

What we find as teachers is how the level of prioritisation starts to change once Yoga gets into your life. This is why some people do classes every other day, as I did for the longest time. But this is not necessarily me trying to get people to do more, just sharing what happens, the gold of this practice.

Every plan can be thwarted by a seemingly better option. And that is deep in our nature, and to a certain extent in our culture, to accommodate everything that makes up a full life. We are hungry for that, or so we are told. In yoga we can have the opportunity to create more clarity, connection and humility each and every day, it IS amazing.. and this is the promise.

This legendary and perhaps controversial photo of BKS Iyengar shows him using massive weights in his savasana. 

This is a method used to bring more tranquility to the nervous system and in turn quieten the mind. Our bodies and brains are alive with electricity in every corner. We feel, we think and we move according to how well the avenues in our bodies are flowing. 

It is a tendency in our ‘can do’ society to jump around and do everything possible but to go inward. So we can learn a lot from just savasana in itself. 

If you are going to yoga classes maybe you’re required, once or twice a week, to lay still for 10 minutes at the end of a class. When I say it like that it’s almost comical! And yet the benefits of not only savasana but yoga overall adds so much to some of the healing therapies we seek to help our life. Massage, physio, medicines, supplements, sunshine, water, swimming, hiking, a walk to the shops, walking the dog.

The other day I ran into an old student up at our local supermarket and it’s is alway joyous just bumping into people I’ve taught in the past. We remember when together we joined on the yoga path during a time when I taught corporate classes. Sine then, she’s become a mother and is still working full time. We went through all the possibles of how she could return to yoga because she really wants to get back into a place before life got overwhelmed with commitments. I’m not saying it’s only mums that go through this, but it’s so commonplace now that women carry this huge load and they are basically exhausted.

She learned so much in those years on the mat and her mind and body remember that time when the flow of energy and more focussed days were more the norm.

I think we lament these experiences if circumstances leech our time spent in freer states. Time not only in the space of stillness and ease, but also with the community that we are a part of week after week. 

We decided on a class that she could manage to get back to and I look forward to seeing her and anyone who will get back to taking time out off the merry-go-round from an over committed life with it’s distractions of tiredness, sickness or injury, social contracts, work, loneliness, misguided energy or just simply too much to do.

Now can you estimate the value of Mr Iyengar’s photo of weighted savasana? How long do we yearn for this time to let go of stress for starters? 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes? An hour?

Then there are the tireless students who are dealing with adverse physical conditions, and who are the very people who, despite their hindrances, learn to work with sometimes serious issues, to brings a sense of harmony and lightness. This is perhaps the hardest of all. To surrender to what life throws you. There’s a realisation that we are not on a solo journey. BKS Iyengar himself suffered the perils of TB which led him to yoga and built back capacity and strength as a young man struck with unimaginable weakness. 

I observe with great interest those who are for the most part type A high achieving career people who even in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s risk running their energy into the ground because yoga does fuel them, and they then ramp up the pace when their cells feel 30 again. This is just so brilliant to see when people feel awakened and enlivened by the practice but at the same time, aren’t we going for a more balanced and streamlined future? 

One of my teaching colleagues left Sydney a few years ago to ‘retire’ to the country after spending decades raising a family and working in a high profile,  demanding government job and teaching yoga. She is tireless, quietly ambitious and a strong practitioner. Since moving she has not only remodelled the home and cleaned up the acres of land around the rainforest that backs on to her property, but she’s gone on to re-open a yoga school after the devastating northern NSW floods. Shortly after she became the President of Iyengar Yoga Australia association whilst going for her teaching upgrade assessment. One thing, in her now as I would say it, crazily full life, is that she knows how to take space. When you read this, you feel her need, just as we teachers feel your need to be like Mr Iyengar in the weighted savasana! (love you Helen!)

Iyengar Yoga and it’s core alignment practices really appeals to the OCD tendency in us all. Once we get the feeling of a more balanced body and mind, then low and behold yoga works it’s magic to hone in and investigate all aspects of our total being to carve out our perception of perfection, a sense of feeling more put together. And it’s like that for some time but not without effort. This is why going to classes should be done on the regular if you haven’t got a home practice and there many resources available to help you with this.

We ultimately practice the ART of yoga. How we move in relation to our own body and brain that is exclusive to us. We are not trying to mould into this or that, but rather live with more ease and more truth. I feel there is no escape from this. Are we ok with our lot in life? Most importantly do we feel nourished and are we able to top that up. Or is life stripping out our efforts and how can we manage without turning our attention away?

As a side note, the meme below presses some of my buttons because whilst I love and am comfortable with my quiet sitting meditation time most mornings, the thinking brain gets fired up and I know I need to sit longer! 

I digress!

The universal desire during the covid lockdown was the need to move. When restrictions are in place our natural instinct is to want to break free.

I think yoga took on a whole new meaning then. Teachers cast thousands of nets all over the world to assist their students in the process of feeling a sense of freedom, physically and in turn psychologically. I can tell this made a tremendous difference to the people I met, and still meet online each week. It’s not the same as getting yourself to a physical class, but maybe for some it’s better. To be in your own space, guided and held while you feel out what’s truly happening. 

It reminds me of a story I once read about a man [*trigger warning*] who was locked in a cage, for many days, curled in a foetal position with others whilst being transported to a concentration camp. This man survived, to tell his story of how he was able to endure this ordeal. He said, it was the regulation of his breathing that kept his mind quiet and his body able to stay still without food or water for such a long time. Remarkable albeit harrowing.

I feel as though most people who have been touched by yoga, are always wanting to bring themselves back and get more time on the mat. To be with the self and perhaps learn how to do extraordinary moves with asana postures that were never thought possible. To be in a yoga situation, as Abhi Iyengar recently said. Who are we and what can bring more change within the context of our lives. 

So how can we carve out more time doing yoga? People love being on retreat mostly because they are in a dedicated time frame to practice more and they get a break from their daily routines that for some can snowball into chronic stress. (shameless plug here for the Bali Retreat I’ll be teaching this year!) 

Last year a woman came to Bali who was not only leaving her corporate job but also packing up and leaving Australia off the back of covid and open heart surgery. I muse over her courage and conviction during this time of her life and know that yoga has made a massive difference to her journey. The effort she put in was incredible. Together we worked but I am just the messenger mostly. Time well spent in trust and dedication to her practice. So inspiring. 
She was not alone on this retreat journey. Another woman in her 50’s recovering from major surgery and presenting with limited, restricted movement managed to flourish into backbends in the final days much to her absolute surprise. She’d done some yoga in the past, but was primarily a Tai Chi practitioner. She later said how much intrinsic confidence had returned to her. My teaching heart becomes so full when yoga makes such a difference.

There are more stories like this, private journeys, some through very personal terrains. Heartbreak, loss, chronic illnesses, broken bones, big operations, accidents. Stories of people who are healing with tremendous courage and amazing resolve. 

I wish the ‘luxury’ of time equally for anyone who simply feels the need to settle back into their yoga routine. I feel deeply for anyone who has to face the conflicts of life, even if it’s of their own doing. To be free of having to live in a world of duality with what is and what could be, is to live our authentic selves regardless of what we have or don’t have to do. 

As I approach my third decade of teaching yoga, I muse over what changes any of my efforts have brought about in the many students I’ve taught. I know that my own family has no real idea of the work that I do, they just know that I’ve been on this path for most of my life, and that I’m ‘a bit weird’.

This week is restorative week (last week of the month). An opportunity for the aforementioned savasana.
If you’re still getting back to yoga, give yourself a head start and take some precious time. Lay out and the rest will be revealed. (see below YouTube link for some reference)

I’ll leave you with this quote from BKS Iyengar,
‘ Sometimes our body is willing, but our mind is weak. Sometimes our mind is willing, but our body is weak. Do not be afraid. Strive to extend your capacity but do not be disappointed with yourself. What does not challenge us, cannot change us.’

In love and light

Suzi CS

How to practice Savasana

Video Courtesy:

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