Tuning-in to the relationship between our physical and emotional selves holds truly transformative potential. Here, our expert columnist Andy Gill delves into the topic, to share insight, advice, and practical exercises you can try at home...
Many people see yoga as stretching, a way to improve mobility, an exercise practice, something about breathing, relaxation or meditation. And yes, yoga does encompass all of these things, but it is far more powerful: it is a method for personal transformation.
Yoga gives us the opportunity to work through the body to strengthen and deepen the mind-body connection. It cultivates our relationship with ourselves, and helps us to manage stress, as well as maintain good mental health.
The simple process of learning to move and breathe better helps us to find space and ease, both in our bodies as well as our lives off the yoga mat.
Many of us relate to our bodies in ways that are disconnected, dysfunctional, and sometimes abusive. When we interact with our bodies in this way, we are hurting and undermining ourselves.
Our wellbeing relies on a healthy connection between the mind and body. Our body is a valuable and ever present resource – a foundation for our lives, keeping us centred, grounded, and in the present. A strong connection to the body provides a connection to the reality of our experience, a place we can call home and return to when we get caught up in the stresses of our modern life. A balanced yoga practice gives us the tools to develop this deeper connection.
So where do we start?
Throughout our lives, many of us have learned to be very hard on ourselves. In yoga philosophy, there is a concept called Ahimsa. It invites us to be gentle, kind, and compassionate, not only to others but ourselves, too.
You may have heard of the importance of practicing self-love for building a healthy sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Cultivating Ahimsa is a practice in developing this self-love, and the journey starts in the body.
As a yoga teacher, I ask my students to listen to their bodies, to move in ways that are appropriate and relevant to their own body’s unique needs, rather than imposing a prescribed ‘blueprint’ of how it should look.
Yoga is not about making shapes, it is a feeling practice. The body is constantly providing feedback, you just need to consciously choose to listen. It is not healthy for our wellbeing to ignore or push through pain – this is not Ahimsa, it is not yoga.
This approach to yoga and movement allows us to unravel tension, to create space, ease, comfort, and freedom in our bodies. When we find freedom in the body, we begin to find freedom and ease in our lives.
To give you some practical experience, I have included two exercises for you to try:
1. Breath awareness
Find a comfortable posture, sitting or lying down. Set a timer for five minutes.
Close your eyes to allow you to bring your conscious awareness to your breath. There is no need to change or breathe in any special way – just breathe normally.
This is a feeling practice, so I want you to feel the breath as it moves in the body, and notice how the body moves in response to the breath. Ask yourself:
- How does the breath move in the body?
- Which parts of your body respond to the breath?
- Has the breath changed
- as you observed it?
- What else do you notice?
"The body is constantly providing feedback, you just need to consciously choose to listen"
2. Movement practice
This is a practice in bringing awareness to the body in movement. Set a timer for 10 minutes, and choose some movements that you are familiar with –it could be a simple yoga routine, a few easy stretches, or even a gentle walk.
- Bring your awareness to the breath.
- When you are ready, begin to move slowly, and breathe normally. Moving slowly allows you to really feel the body sensations that arise.
- Notice the sensations that are present as you move.
- What different ‘flavours’ of sensation are available to you?
With both practices, simply pay attention to your body, the motions, and any feelings that arise, be curious, and really tune-in to the sensation of the body. As you repeat the practices, you may notice that the experience changes. I invite you to notice how it develops with repetition over a couple of weeks.