Yoga Grows Compassion
Yoga enables you to live more consciously
Practicing yoga is one of the most loving, compassionate things you can do for yourself and those around you. Through yoga, you can get to know your body and mind intimately, and therefore better understand your needs and abilities. This understanding seeps into all areas of your life – it allows you to deal gracefully with life’s challenges and to make more conscious decisions. It allows you to face all situations with an open heart and mind. It can attune you to the beauty that exists all around us.
Through self-discovery and intention to care for your body and mind, you feel your place in the world becoming clearer and can use your skills to their greatest effect. You can tune in to what’s going on around you and create stronger relationships with others. By training your mind to go inward and to focus, keeping your body strong and supple, and listening to your deep intuition, life becomes easier to navigate. By remaining in the moment as much as possible, sensations are intensified and feelings appreciated. Life becomes more alive. Begin with the following exercises. With consistent practice, notice the positive changes that take place – on the yoga mat and in your everyday life.
Beginning your practice: going inside
Whether you are a new or experienced yogi, begin by starting over every day. Each time you step onto your mat, take a few minutes to slow down the mind. Close the eyes, meditate on the breath, and look inward to gain a better understanding of where you are in that moment. Understand that every day is different. Respond to these differences with compassion. Getting to know yourself in this way will help you grow, not only in yoga, but also in life. Pushing too hard is likely to cause frustration or injury. Starting at your appropriate level and being consistent is necessary for growth.
Start off slowly, breathing deeply with intention and full relaxation and tuning in to your inner world. You might start standing in Tadasana, on hands and knees, or maybe in child’s or wisdom pose (child’s pose with knees wide apart) with your arms outstretched before you, tailbone reaching toward the heels, and your forehead relaxing into the earth. The possibilities are endless. Just find a comfortable place where you can let go of your day and whatever else is going on in your life, and tune in to the moment and your breath.
Breathing in deeply, feel the air enter your body as the oxygen imbues all of your cells with new life. Closing your eyes helps you to go inside and scan your entire body for any signs of holding or tension. When you feel a spot that needs release, focus your attention on that spot as you inhale, and exhale the tension out. Continue to breathe in deeply and slowly through the nose, and breathe out for at least the same length of time (also through the nose if possible). Breathing in, you take in energy and improve circulation. Breathing out, you let thoughts pass through your consciousness without holding on to them. Focus on your body and the places where you need to let go.
After spending five or ten minutes going inside, you can more consciously evolve into your practice. You have a better understanding of where you are in that moment, and can tailor your practice in accordance with your needs. It’s one thing to know what’s good for you instinctively but to ignore it and do something else. In yoga, we learn to have compassion for ourselves and understand that every day is different and, therefore, each practice is unique. Some days you may be more flexible or feel more balanced than others. Listening to your body and your inner voice is the first step toward self-compassion, which naturally extends towards others and the environment.
Once you’re inside: deepening the awareness
As you remain focused on your body, in the moment, you may feel your awareness shift. You are shifting from thinking to feeling mind. Your only task is to care for yourself and know instinctively what feels right or wrong. When you are in your own practice at home, you can design it each time you come to your mat depending on how you feel. Once you get to know the poses and yourself better, you will navigate naturally through your practice, allowing your body to move with the breath in whatever way feels right at the time. This is the essence of a personal practice: the awareness and compassion to embody what is appropriate at the time.
As you move into your practice, remaining with the breath is very important. Long, slow, relaxing breath helps you to stay grounded and enables you to evolve into challenging poses with grace. Physically, the breath initiates the energy flow in your limbs, and being aware of its movements (in and out, up and down, and throughout your body), you can get more deeply into poses. You start to realize that the breath is moving you – this allows you to let go and stop striving. We often limit ourselves by thinking we can’t do something. Our negative thoughts or fears get in the way and we give up. If we allow the breath to help us in our yoga practice, and in our life, we will move more gracefully.
Your physical body follows the subtle breath/prana moving through it. Take Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), for example. As you inhale, you feel the spine rising toward the sky, the energy drawing you upward through your arms and the crown of your skull. As you exhale, you feel balanced and connected with the earth. The in breath pulls strength into your core (uddiyana bandha), and the outbreath lets your shoulders roll back and down. The in breath creates space between your vertebrae and stretches your right and left side body. The outbreath grounds your front thigh parallel with the earth, and your tailbone lengthens down. This may seem like a lot to remember, but as your practice evolves you attune to these breath movements and the body responds naturally. Try out a few different poses and see if you can notice the different movements of prana throughout your body.
Adjusting your practice in class
In this blog I focus a lot on home yoga practice, but attending classes with an instructor is important, too. When you are in a class, just remember you always have the freedom to modify poses to fit your current state or to come into a resting pose when you need it. Never compare yourself to others in a yoga class. Everyone’s body is different, and every body has individual needs, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Our bones are shaped differently and the same posture can look very different in two bodies – or even on two sides of the same body! Again, practice compassion with yourself and be OK with where you are now.
Taking the jewels of the practice out into daily life
By becoming intimately aware of what’s going on in your mind and body – and checking in consistently with the status – you are better able to respond to whatever situations arise in life. The exercises I described above can help you relax, focus, and develop compassion. Focused attention on the breath and body, practiced consistently over time, allows you to be more focused and attentive to your needs off the yoga mat. As your practice progresses, take the time to reflect on what has changed for the better – both in your yoga practice and in your life. Keeping a journal is a great way to do this. I think you’ll find you have an infinite capacity to grow and an increased interest in life! As always, please feel free to share your experiences, comment, or ask questions!