Things I've learned
I thought it could be useful to breakdown how the yoga path typically goes. So here it is, in 3 handy stages!
Before we go on I should note that this path is relevant to the teachings of more traditional and holistic schools of Yoga . Many yoga centres don't follow this route at all. Most popular yoga centres these days say that they teach Hatha yoga, but they really only teach asanas (yoga postures). Asanas are part of the first step of the path of Hatha yoga, which is one of many yoga paths. Asanas are important, but if they're treated like exercise their amazing benefits can't be developed. And more importantly, there's so much more to Yoga! The list below is just a taste of some of the many paths of yoga, which all have their own philosophies and techniques. It’s a rich Yogiverse out there!
Hatha Yoga - works on purifying and balancing the energies of the body.
Bhakti Yoga - works on the heart, and creating healthy channels for emotion.
Karma Yoga - training in meditative awareness during any activities, work, and service to others.
Raja Yoga - focuses on the mind, and uses systematic and disciplined approaches to train the mind to become one-pointed.
Nada Yoga - uses the incredible power of sound to balance the mind and body, and expand awareness.
It seems to me that the great and largely unknown benefit of Yoga, is its diversity. And I'm not talking about things like the new and terrible non-yogas, like beer yoga, or chicken-nugget yoga! I mean the ancient, tried and trusted sciences that develop incredible human potential. These paths are less used nowadays, which is a huge pity because they work just as well, and because it seems like we need them even more now. Their diversity lies in their applicability to whatever an individual needs personally at whatever times, whether it's to balance the head, heart, or hands. I hope that real and diverse yoga can make a big fat comeback, and move into the mainstream. I imagine that a lot of solutions to health and societal problems would come with it. It's the best.
So. When we start any well-rounded path of yoga, which works on the whole personality, it takes a serious commitment, and often goes something like this:
Stage 1: Weekly Yoga Classes
This is really the honeymoon phase of the path, especially because relaxation is usually the first step. Many people find that they have never actually experienced deep relaxation, so the impact and benefits of that will often hit home straight away. Lots of students, like me, also find that their curiosity and awareness are sparked in a way that they can't yet explain, but they're definitely going to keep coming back! As the weeks and months go on, physical and mental changes are gradually seen and felt, and it feels strange/wrong if a class is missed.
Stage 2: Daily Home Practice
Out of the honeymoon phase now, and there will be challenges ahead for sure, but this stage is where all of the magic happens. Daily yoga practice is a one-way ticket to all sorts of freedom. It's a life-long stage. It takes a bit of effort to get going, but the return on investment is totally priceless. An experienced mentor is essential here too I would say, as they'll have navigated this stage already. As the layers of self-awareness gradually develop and deepen, the body and mind start to regain their health and balance. The mind becomes clearer and better at making decisions. Negative and unhealthy mental and emotional patterns will also become clearer, and this is the difficult bit. But the very same awareness that shines a light on the hard parts, is also what allows enough space for other skills like self-acceptance and self-love to come in. Which is what will clear away the unwanted patterns, in practice. And what's left when the clearing is done? Sure it's only ourselves! That's when the dormant creative potential has a chance to wake up and pop out. One might find themselves feeling sudden urges to make little infographics about the yoga path, as a tiny example. Much bigger and better than that though is that we can find out about what we actually enjoy. Not what we think we should enjoy, or how we escape from ourselves, but actual enjoyment. Pain-free, guilt-free, and full of fun.
Stage 3: Awareness is Established
Home practice continues on indefinitely, and guidance by a teacher is still essential at key times, but by this stage the new skill of awareness is becoming more integrated into the everyday experience. Meaning that a more fine-tuned and growing awareness is "on" all or most of the time, without as much effort as in the beginning. Integration of this skill is extremely good news, because it brings more options, choices, acceptance and peace along with it.
Creating Awareness about Awareness
I've broken this yoga trajectory into three parts mainly to try and create some awareness about the incredible potential and possibilities from self-awareness, with a bit of training and commitment. But really the path goes on and on. I have no idea what's up ahead, but I'm very interested to find out! And I'll be maintaining my own approach as a beginner student throughout, because it's the best way to learn and because I imagine that it'll always be true.
And I'll also be keeping my hope that all the good peoples around me have better access to the fascinating paths of yoga, discover more about their real nature, and find which paths and tools work for them best.
I've started weekly Yoga classes on Tuesday's at 8pm at the Yoga Centre, Tower Street, Cork, if you'd like to start your own path. Contact me if you're interested.