So, you practise yoga and you love the feeling of stretching out and releasing tightness from your body.
You’re noticing that you can bend and move more easily than you used to; you’ve re-established a connection with your breath to enable you to relax; and you’re enjoying the quiet sense of resilience and peacefulness which a yoga practice can bring.
Maybe you’ve noticed shifts in the perception of your emotions, energy levels and thoughts as and after you’ve practised yoga on the mat. Maybe you’ve felt elated; other times jittery and a bit unsettled; other times blissfully tranquil.
But just how and why do these stretches, twists, balances, breathing and relaxation have such a deep effect?
Peel back the layers
Yoga can be deeply transformational because it works on different levels of our being.
We start with moving our body but it impacts on many different levels of our experience. In this way our body acts as a gateway into our inner self.
In yoga, these different levels are called the “Koshas” – the layers – of existence.
Physical – our bodies, at every level of function (e.g. musculo-skeletal, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, endocrine, immune, lymphatic etc).
Energy – our breath and subtle sensations within our bodies; our life force.
Mind – our emotions, thoughts and feelings; our five senses.
Wisdom – our intellect; perception; our will.
Higher consciousness – or bliss. A connection to something deep within, or maybe outside of, ourselves beyond the everyday material existence.
Get interested in yourself
As you practise yoga try to become aware of how you feel on these different levels. E.g. after a pose, or at the end of your yoga practice, ask yourself these questions:
How does my body feel? Do I notice any aches or resistance? Any areas of stiffness? Any relief from stiffness? How do my muscles feel? How do my joints feel?
Do I notice any sensations within my body? Do I notice any sense of warmth or coolness? Any tingling? Any sensations of openness or freedom? How am I breathing? Deeply? Shallowly? Quickly? Slowly? Roughly? Smoothly?
How is my mind? What thoughts are present? What emotions? Is my mind busy or quiet today? Try to notice without judgement.
What am I perceiving? On a deeper level, are there any thoughts coming up which are telling you answers to questions in your life? Any intuitions or insight? Any “gut feeling”?
How connected do I feel? Does your energy feel scattered or do you feel still and connected e.g. to the earth and sky, to your body, breath, mind and wisdom? To nature? To other people? To a sense of purpose?
Try it out…
For example, try the Flowing Tree (PDF) and check your awareness through your experience like this:
- Body sensations: which muscles do you feel working? Maybe your feet and ankles to steady you. Maybe your legs, glutes and core to keep you upright. Maybe your hips feel freer. Maybe your shoulders feel more open as you move your arms – or maybe you notice they’re stiff!
- Energy: How is your breath? Do you notice any tingling or subtle sensations in or around your body? For example you may have become simply more aware of your breath; you may be breathing more deeply. You may feel a subtle sense of space around you and strength beneath you.
- Mind: What thoughts or emotions arise? Maybe you notice that any busy-ness in your mind affects your ability to balance. Maybe you notice how physical strength and balance help you to feel balanced, focused and still on a deeper level.
- Wisdom: Do you experience any deeper insights such as a steady inner strength and power; a knowledge that you can withstand all that life throws at you with a combination of inner strength and flexibility (just as trees do!).
- Connection: how do you feel deep within yourself? Do you feel any sense of connection with nature or with others? Can you feel your roots in the earth? The Tree pose can help us to perceive life as it is, not how we think it should be.
These are purely some illustrative suggestions – whatever you notice is right … for you!
It’s all yoga
Personally, this practice is why I love yoga so much.
Most people come to yoga first for the physical practice (that’s why I started it) but over time and with regular practice we can start to feel something shifting on deeper levels.
For me, this is the beauty of yoga.
Yoga means “union”. It helps us become whole – to tune in to the many layers of our experience.
And you only have to go as far as is comfortable for you.
Whether that’s focusing on the physical experience of the yoga postures, or meditating on the divine within you – it’s all yoga and it’s all wonderful!
Over to you
How do you experience yoga? I’d love to hear – please leave a comment below.
If you’d like to try a slower-paced, therapeutic approach to yoga which helps you release and let go, then why not come along to one of my yoga classes in Southampton & Eastleigh, Hampshire, UK?
I teach six public classes a week as well as offering private 1-2-1 tuition, with a programme of workshops to come in 2015. Check out my yoga class timetable to find out more and make a booking enquiry.
Keep in touch
If you would like regular tips, insights and wisdom delivered to your inbox, and to receive a free 17-minute guided relaxation, then please leave your name and email address.