Around this beautiful time of spring, equinox and Easter time we celebrate more light, life, energy and colour coming back into the world after the darker days of Winter. How can we bring the joys of this new season onto the mat as part of our yoga practice?
My mind recently took me back to my time in Kerala, India this time last year… a great yoga teacher told me during a super beneficial private yoga session… “Catherine, your practice looks a bit flat… a bit lackluster… like it’s lost it’s sparkle and your wings have been clipped.” With a few simple cues, I was moved around the mat and aided into my FULL interpretation or expression of the poses. I was working the necessary muscles, breathing to my full capacity and really showing up for ME on the mat.
When I say “full expression” I don’t mean the most difficult version of a pose or a crazy posture, I was simply trying my absolute hardest and putting true effort into my practice. I was thinking about the cues the teacher was saying and moving my body according to their guide.
I was breathing at a steady pace and most importantly, FEELING the poses. I’ve studied a number of poses and love understanding why poses are called particular names but I hadn’t been practicing on the mat with this in mind… to become an eagle, to emulate a warrior, to fly like a crow, curve my spine like a cat or stretch out like a dog.
I was simply going through the motions without any curiosity and without asking myself why am I moving my head this way? Is my gaze steady? Do I feel truly balanced? Am I embodying a warrior?! This simple (but difficult to hear!!) statement from my teacher helped me bring a new zest back to the mat – I felt alive again and gave my all to my practice.
We call this dedication and desire to keep coming back to the mat and keep practicing, progressing mentally, spiritually, physically, “Tapas”. No, not the Spanish food kind! The Sanskrit kind, and one of the Niyamas or “observances” Yogis need to follow. Tapas is interpreted as “Inner fire”, “heat”, “zeal”, “rigour” or “self-discipline”. Think of it as that inner passion and burning desire for your yoga practice.
As a yoga teacher I feel like I observe a lot of tapas and people’s very interesting and diverse human behaviour! However, I also sadly see a lot of people not taking up the space they deserve or standing in their power on the mat practicing with their tapas. Often I cue a pose (and if you come to my classes you know I barely demonstrate as I’m watching the class) and students tend to look at each other first before coming into the posture or moving the body the way I’ve explained to do with my voice.
I know that sometimes this is because they aren’t sure exactly what to do or they are very new to yoga and want to double check they are moving the same way as everyone else. However, unfortunately it’s often for a lack of confidence in themselves to move into the posture and be the first in the room to come back into downward facing dog before someone else has.
If you are secretly nodding along and saying yep that’s me, I tell you – you are amazing as you are and don’t need to look around for someone else to move first! Come into your posture and stand in your power! Shine bright on the mat and never hold back for fear of others looking at you or maybe you put your body in a slightly different shape – so WHAT?! Do you really care? What matters is how you feel NOT what anyone else thinks of your practice. And trust me… everyone is too busy focusing on themselves anyway!
Take a look at these visual aids here to give you an example of what I’m talking about…
The first one is… fine, I could definitely do more and I’m not making a proper effort. There’s a lot more fighting spirit in me but that humble warrior definitely not fully visible or shining through from the inside out.
Example 2 – she got it, on fire, tapas blazing ? shining bright, standing in her power, working in alignment with her steady but penetrating gaze, fully balanced, strong bend in the front knee, working the core muscles and inner thighs, feet wide apart in alignment and a beautiful open posture you can see… the inside reflected on the outside – there’s a sparkle there and a passion behind the pose!
This can work both ways… don’t think I’m just saying to go physically harder, stronger, longer etc this also applies the other way in terms of resting, softening, relaxing and finding stillness.
The worst is to be in a “rest” posture like child’s pose but in some half attempt where you’re not fully surrendered to the mat – you’re kind of in child’s pose, kind of in a half down dog thinking you shouldn’t be resting, half sat up crazy hybrid posture between flowing and relaxing!! Yep! I see this happening a lot in classes too! If you want to rest… REST and rest FULLY without guilt, without hesitation but with complete softness and surrender.
Give your ALL mentally & physically to each pose whether strong or soft and find that necessary balance between the two “strength/ease” or “sthira/sukha”.
To conclude, when it comes to your yoga practice this spring or whenever you next step on the mat I say GO FOR IT! Give it your all, whether in your movement or in your stillness, show up for YOU, shine bright and invite a new lease of life back to your yoga mat.