Yoga. It’s awesome, isn’t it?! I know – shocker. But recently I’ve been having a little play with taking some of the tools that my yoga practice has taught me into the other ways I move my body. Sometimes it’s cycling, sometimes it’s running, but when the going gets tough (yeah, you’ve got the song in your head now, haven’t you?) I’ve found that dipping into my yoga toolkit has been really handy.
Read on and find out how yoga need not be your sole workout – but it can always be your soul workout.
Awesome awareness (svadhyaya)
One of the most important elements of creating your yogic life is to take on some serious self-studying. Understanding why you do what you do, how you do it, and whether there are better ways to go about it, can be intriguing and illuminating. I’ve been trying to do this literally when I’m out pounding the pavements with a full body scan, in my mind, as I run. Am I holding tension in my shoulders? Are my arms swinging arms too much? Do I feel like one of my legs is more dominant than the other? (Often easier to spot in running because you’ll be going around in a circle!) Can I try noticing every stride; how each foot lifts, rolls, pushes? The good thing about this one is usually by the time you’ve reached your feet, your shoulders are up around your ears again so repetition is key.
Burning through the barriers (tapas)
In this case, tapas sadly doesn’t relate to a delicious plate of patatas bravas. It’srelating to practices and behaviours which help us get rid of those negative things holding us back on our yogic journey towards the ultimate destination of enlightenment (or even the first stop of ‘Not being an eejit’). For me, this definitely includes the little voice in my brain which says things like “if you go this route, you’ll never get up that hill” before I’ve even tried. But it’s important to remember that to use tapas in the true yogic sense, you are not setting about to destroy yourself. The challenge is finding that perfect balance where you’re pushing yourself to see what you can achieve, and building yourself up to be even stronger than you were before.
But - be kind to yourself (ahimsa)
It’s possibly the most important principle of yoga which we try and live by. Its meaning? Basically – cause less harm through our actions and thoughts, to ourselves and to other people. It’s an oldie but such a goodie.
It is possible to still be compassionate to self while challenging self (so it is not contradictory to tapas). As with many of these things it’s all about the intention. It’s important to me that I do a little checking-in with myself every so often and take an honest look at why I think I should go for a run, despite the fact that my ankle is a little sore and could do with a rest. Or why I’m gnashing my teeth in frustration at a laid-back walker temporarily slowing me down on a narrow path. Or why in my mind I am calling myself a shockingly obscene range of bullying names, just because I didn’t manage to run quite as fast as I did the day before. These things we do are meant to be good for us, but that will only happen if we’re good to ourselves first.
Keeping it steady, strong, light and sweet – ‘Sthira Sukhan Asanam’
One of every teachers Top Five phrases from good ole Patanjali’s yoga sutras (probably because it’s one of the most pertinent and possibly because it’s the easiest one to remember), this is his short-but-sweet advice for what our asana practice should be. ‘Sthira’ can be translated as steady or strong, and ‘Sukh’ as light or sweet. But I think this could be applied to many things we do off the mat, and especially anything physical. He’s not saying keep going ‘til you want to vomit; it’s really important you look good whilst you’re doing it; or anything about being the very best at it. If we can find that sweet spot of steadiness of action, strength of movement, lightness of effort, and sweetness of feeling just so darn good after it, then on and off the mat our efforts will never be in vain.