Lessons From The Mat.
Sharing observations and insights that unfold through practice and teaching.
From The Gound UP
WE WALK AROUND ON OUR FEET ALL DAY BUT WHAT DOES IT REALLY MEAN TO BE GROUNDED?
This is a topic close to my heart. We can be our best when our feet are firmly grounded and our heart is open, yet most of us don’t give much thought to how we stand and the relationship we have with gravity. When this placement is active there is presence and certainty. This is one of the aspects I love most about my yoga practice. It gets me out of my head and into my body. In other words, grounded. This is a common yoga cliche, but what does it mean to be grounded? How does it feel to be grounded?
To look at it’s opposite, most of us have experienced what it feels like to be ungrounded. Too much downward energy and we feel depressed, heavy and stuck. Too much upward energy and we are in our head, absent minded, nervous, anxious, confused, flighty, and ruled by thoughts. We may have lots of ideas, but without a foundation there is no platform for them to manifest.
Take an idea for example, without grounding it would always remain in the head as an idea. Anything successful- a business, a relationship (to self or others), a sturdy building, an investment plan, a tree, a yoga practice- requires a firm foundation on which to rest, to fall back on, and to grow out of.
To start, bring awareness down into the body and to those parts touching the floor. Observing in detail the sensations found without judgement. Now start to push back from the floor. The harder the surface you are on the more you can push back. Here there is a mental shift. There is no longer a yielding, but a responding. Lifting off and pushing away from the floor. Welcome the floor then respond to the floor, press, push, twist into, and rotate from.
To look at the practice of yoga postures, we start with the placement of the feet, or other body parts touching the floor and build from there. If we have done our work with the foundation, the rest of the body (posture) falls into place. We need to move down before we can lift up and away from the floor. Working like this, consistently over time we build strength and stamina and give time for the body to change and open. There is stability in the foundation we are laying down, reinforced each time we practice.
The effects of being grounded are more than just physical. When we are grounded there is certainty, confidence and presence, we feel centred and balanced. When we get out of our head and into the present moment problems appear to be smaller. There
is a trilogy that come to work together. The body, the breath and the mind synchronise. Work with any two and the third will follow.
The analogy of a tree is very symbolic. From the seed a root appears and grows down. Shortly after the shoot appears and grows up. It continues in this way, spreading down roots and out branches. To give the tree added stability it also has a subtle spiral, to give it torque, strength when it bends in the wind. We can learn to do the same. BKS Iyengar calls the capacity of the tree to grow up, away from gravity “grace”. These principles are the same in whatever posture you choose, but in the more difficult postures like arm balances, it is even more pronounced.
If you would like to explore this further my workshop in March might interest you. This workshop will help you understand your foundation in a range of postures, why this is important and how this will assist you. How to build from the ground up. How to facilitate co-activation of opposing muscle groups to build strength and stability and stretch safely.
The benefits are not just physical. Grounding connects us to our surroundings, to the earth, to something bigger than ourselves. The heart opens and problems seems smaller when we are out of our head, in the body and present.
Need some grounding? If you can’t get to your yoga mat get into nature, go for a walk, feel your feet connect with the ground. Walk on the beach or grass. Be in the moment. Once you are grounded, then those other yoga cliches balanced and centred will come, but I’ll leave those for another time……
Tapas…..not the Spanish food type, but the Sanskrit, Hindu, yoga type is one to cultivate.
It is one of the eight limbs of yoga, being the third of the five Niyamas. It is Sanskrit for discipline, heat and austerity. It comes from the root word ‘tap’ meaning to burn, and refers to the internal discipline, fire and drive that we draw on when we are determined.
Implementation begins with an intention to overcome a challenge. In order to do this we draw on discipline, drive, courage, focus and effort to stay on the task or the path at hand. The process also requires endurance to stay on the path for as long as it takes. The transition and transformation we experience “burns” unhealthy and unhelpful habits and thought patterns that hold us back from living our clearest and highest Self.
As tapas is an internal discipline it cannot be measured by difficulty. The task, for example asana, doesn’t have to be difficult. More importantly it is steady, consistent and subtle. There is no expectation of reward, and the mind remains balanced (equanimous). Simple things like turning up to your yoga mat or meditation cushion when you don’t feel like it, turning the t.v. off before being sucked into another program, doing something because it is the right thing to do, not because there is a reward, these demonstrate tapas.
To give some more examples.
Tapas of the body are things like cleanliness, respect, non violence, compassion.
Tapas of the mind are things like keeping negative thoughts in check, concentration, silence, contentment.
Tapas of speech can be truthfulness, not gossiping, only speaking when necessary or helpful.
So, how to cultivate tapas?
Learn to distinguish between the different voices and the different 'selves’ we hold inside. There will be a higher aspect of self who decides the day before to set the alarm for 5am to get up and practise. At 5am it is a lower aspect of self that chooses to switch the alarm off and get more sleep. It is a choice which one we listen to and which we ignore. Holding the intention, your reason WHY and the end goal (without expectation to results) strengthens willpower, the power house to Tapas. A strong 'why’ will bring conviction to your actions.
A consistent regime like yoga, meditation or other sport training can work with all of these examples. Focusing on the body, breath, and intention while keeping in check the gossip and negative thoughts requires discipline. Observing the process will help you burn through the layers of mental, physical and emotional “stuff” that we all carry around.
So how can we add tapas to our life?
Try giving something up for a day, a week, a month- your mobile phone, electronic devises, t.v., talking, coffee. Or is there something that you are avoiding that can be added? Housework, organisation, responsibilities, exercise? Try setting some time for it into your schedule.
Think of it like this, our mental resolve is like a muscle that the more we practise the stronger our confidence and courage in ourself and our mental strength becomes.
Schedule it in and watch what happens. How does your perspective change?