We often think we are doing yoga when we roll out our mat and strike a few warrior postures or flow through a few sun salutes, but what is yoga really?
To quote Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra I.2, “Yogah Chitta Vritti Nirodahah”, which is commonly translated as, “Yoga is stilling the fluctuations of the mind.” In fact, yoga asana (or postures) are hardly mentioned at all in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. So what does it mean to still the fluctuations of the mind? It is about being mindful and present, allowing ourselves to awaken the senses and really start to feel, to become aware of our thoughts or senses and observe without mindlessly reacting. You definitely don’t need to be doing yoga postures to do that.
My Tuesday morning yoga practice doesn’t use a yoga mat. Instead, I get out on my bike into nature to fully awaken my senses and exercise my body. I’m fortunate enough to live close to the Kedron Brook bikeway, so every Tuesday morning I follow the path east, along the shores of Kedron Brook and Shultz Canal towards Nudgee Beach, and if time permits, through Boondall Wetlands and occasionally onto Shorncliffe. The full trip to Shorncliffe takes me 2 hours return.
As my legs get moving and the blood starts pumping, thoughts start to flood my head: things I need to do, things that are worrying me and I can become trapped in these churning thoughts if I let myself. But then I become aware of my breath and start to take more notice of my senses. There is so much to feel when I am out on the bike in nature: the feeling of the breeze on my skin, the sound of wind rushing past my ears, the cicadas chirping, the soft whirring of my wheels and gears, the singing of birds and faintly, in the distance, the rumble of traffic on the freeway, reminding me that mankind and “progress” is forever encroaching on our natural bushland. The song “Telegraph Road” by Dire Straits always comes to mind at that point, and I feel saddened by what humans are doing to the earth, but then I realise I have become distracted. I draw my mind back to the present once more, noticing the shadows of the trees on the path, the birds fishing in the wetlands, the shape of the clouds in the sky and feel truly grateful to be so close to nature while living close to the city. My body feels alive.
So how can you take your yoga practice off the mat? Get outside if you can, whether you just step outside into your garden, or visit a local park or beach and then become aware of the sensations flowing into your body from your surroundings: the sights, sounds, smells and the feel of the sun or wind on your skin, the earth beneath your feet. Once you awaken your senses you will be surprised at how much information comes flooding in, sensations that our all too busy mind often ignores. We have now become mindful and present.
So don’t limit yourself to believing you have to roll out your yoga mat or do yoga postures to be doing yoga. Of course, a well balanced yoga practice has the advantage of moving your joints through their full range of motion, which other more repetitive forms of exercise will not do, so it is important to vary your exercise to maintain flexibility in all your joints. But whatever you chose, awaken yourself to everything flowing in through your senses and start to really feel, rather than react mindlessly or ignore the sensations because our thoughts are elsewhere. And the more time you can spend in nature, the better it will be for your mind. How do you take your yoga practice off the mat?