Friday, December 16, 2016

Yoga Practice in Turbulent Times

As the chaos of our world situation continues to reveal itself this season, many of us are struggling to understand our role in the events now unfolding.  As yoga practitioners, we may also be seeking to understand how a spiritual practice can aid us as we move forward.  For some, it is tempting to retreat to an inner landscape, where we have worked to gain some measure of control or peace.  Others may turn away from internal practice altogether in order to focus on action.  While the best strategy for moving forward in a changing world will be different for each of us, I suspect, as with most things in life, the answer for many of us will lie somewhere in the middle ground.

A yoga practice invites us into that middle place by helping us to see and make sense of the varied, sometimes paradoxical, aspects of embodied existence. By working with mindfulness and integration, we may have moments of knowing or feeling our essence, our connection to source or other beings, or whatever we might define as our "true self". We may experience moments of balance, strength, or clarity as we explore our individual identities through action on the mat. Insights or struggles around challenges in the external world could arise. Ideally, a yoga practice will serve as a bridge between the inner and outer experience, helping us to remember our responsibility to others when delving into internal terrain AND our essence or interconnection when engaging in action. In this convergence, true aim may arise and help lead us to appropriate action.

So, while a practice in yoga isn't going to create change in and of itself, it can, when practiced with these intentions in mind, support us by:

- Encouraging an internal balance that helps develop the clarity to know what we'd like to accomplish and the strength and resolve to actually do so.  (Self-care is still important!)

- Helping to develop skill in non-reactivity, allowing us time to assess before we respond.

- Fostering a sense of compassion for all beings through practicing non-judging awareness.

- Encouraging self-honesty and a willingness to both see what is taking place and acknowledge our role in it - a necessary act for those interested in understanding the impacts of privilege and complacency.

-  Building a greater capacity to bear witness as individuals and to foster a sense of shared awareness in community - an important skill in this "post-truth" era.

Yoga is a tool that can be used toward any end.  It will be up to each of us to determine what that end will be and what other skills we may need to develop in order to navigate this particular moment in time.  It is my greatest hope that our practice in this community will support us all in bringing into action whatever we most wish to offer to the world and to each other.
In peace,
~Kate Pousont Scarborough, E-RYT 500, 
Director Shelburne Falls Yoga

(illustration by Gayle Kabaker)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Some Ideas for Customizing and Enhancing your Practice

(The following comes from a recent series at the studio and explores some ways in which to tailor a practice to meet individual needs.)

-          -Remember the underlying aims of reducing suffering, discovering  your full potential, and learning to see what is truly happening AND the underlying technique of integrating body, breath, and attention with non-judging awareness.  You can bring any personal goals to the mat (flexibility, relaxation, clarity, strength etc.) to be explored through this lens. 

-         - Your teacher’s instructions are suggestions and guidelines for what works for many people much of the time.  You are the ultimate authority on what does and does not work for your body.

-          -Yoga is a preventive health tool.  Use caution and consult with your health care provider when working with injury or special circumstances.  Contrary to popular opinion, yoga is not universally “therapeutic” or relaxing.  Many techniques and postures are fairly intense practices designed to impact deeply held patterning in the body & mind, so it is important to bear this in mind and/or let your instructor know if you are working with any health conditions.

-         - Yoga should not hurt.  While some activities may produce moderate sensation and even a bit of muscle shaking, try to avoid intense sensation or working so hard that movement or breath becomes disorganized.  The body generally does not respond well to stretching or strengthening in the end range of motion.  The extreme flexibility we see in the yoga media is a holdover from a time when past generations were exploring the far reaches of energetic “freedom” or flow by working with extreme positions (activities that may have their roots in ascetic practices often intended to punish or “transcend” the body).  There is now a movement away from these extremes as the first western teachers of extreme posture work have begun to speak openly about the injuries many have experienced as a result. Working toward a normal, healthy range of motion that supports the activities you like to do in your daily life is usually a more sustainable, effective, and injury-free path.

-         - Yoga asks us to look into our habits and patterns, a process that can be uncomfortable.  It is as much about “how” we do things as “what” we do, and only you can know what is taking place internally.  If you catch yourself falling into familiar patterns (like working too hard, being self-critical, or shying away from a challenge), simply take note.  If you feel that you are getting off course or are experiencing pain or agitation, try asking  yourself “what I am actually doing?” and “what am I trying to create right now?”.

-          -Yoga asks us to consider that less can sometimes be more when it comes to creating lasting change.  Be on the lookout for subtle sensations and open to new patterns and perspectives.

~Kate Pousont Scarborough,
E-RYT 500, Director of Shelburne Falls Yoga