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quality-of-practice
28 Jan
Bryan Kest Bryan Kest

Quality of Yoga Practice

Quality of Yoga Practice = Quality of Results

Awareness, Breathing and Gentleness

Awareness

Awareness of breathing is our top priority. For this to happen, we need focus: move away from all thoughts and distraction in order to pay attention to what we are doing in the present moment. In doing this, we give our brain a little rest from the constant influx of our normal, redundant, unnecessary thoughts that are incessantly passing through our brain, mostly distracting us from what we are experiencing and contributing to the mental stresses we create. From here, we also stop feeding the normal habit of our mind. When you stop feeding something, it starves and dies. In other words, “killing the qualities and habits that contribute in a very large way to the disease and miseries in our life.” Focus means “paying attention.” Paying attention to what you are experiencing allows for a fuller more satisfying experience. In other words, you can’t benefit from something you don’t pay attention to. Also, when you pay attention to what you are experiencing, you can make intelligent decisions according to what you are feeling, so as to keep what you are doing healing instead of enacting old, redundant (abusive), habitual patterns. There will not be an aspect of your life that won’t benefit from a heightened state of awareness. Ultimately that is a goal of yoga: to bring benefit, satisfaction and understanding to every aspect of one’s life.

Awareness is easy enough to understand, but not so easy to practice, because it is against the normal habits of the mind. Whenever you try to break a habit, there is a revolt. Focus is difficult. Please be patient. Don’t slip into frustration or criticism or any negativities we are trying to eradicate, not facilitate. Just bring your attention back to your breathing. If you do find yourself being frustrated or critical, smile and again come back in to your breath. Again, you need to be patient and keep trying and slowly you will find your focus improving and it won’t simply be during your yoga practice. It will encompass all and you are on your way to sucking more of the juice out of your life. As humans, after basic necessities, I don’t believe there is anything more important we can work on than “awareness” or you could call it “being present” or simply “paying attention” or “sucking the juice out of every moment of life.”

Breathing

If focus/awareness is the transcendent quality of our yoga practice, breathing is its object. The breath is significant for at least a few reasons. Firstly, it is happening right now. Therefore, when focused on the breathing, you become quiet, clear and present. Second, the breath usually mirrors the mind: when you are stressed/upset, the breath loses its calmness; when you are calm, the breath remains calm. As we know, so much health and benefit come from a calm and peaceful mind, the opposite of stress. So maintaining calm breathing is a priority. Third, I believe most of the filtering mechanism for the air entering the body are in the nostrils, hair, mucus, etc…Also, I’ve noticed deep, smooth breathing has a soothing, quieting and calming effect on my mind. So for the asana practice, let the breath be deep, smooth, nostril breathing. Let the smoothness and calmness be one of two barometers of the yoga practice (the other I will mention later). Remember, the calmness of the breath represents the calmness of your mind. If you lose the calmness and begin to strain, the postures become counter productive, counter productive because you are creating stress as well as feeding more food to the reactiveness of your mind, the root of stress, therefore hurting your body. Yet this straining of the breath as well as possibly the eyes, lips, jaw, neck, etc… can not be detected unless you have awareness, because it has become normal. So maintaining deep, calm breathing helps develop awareness, strengthens our equanimity (ability to keep the mind calm) even in challenging and difficult moments. It would be very difficult to hurt yourself or anything while being calm and gentle. So with awareness, we work with the breath to have a powerfully healing yoga practice which uses calmness and gentleness as its instruments. With calmness and gentleness, we improve every aspect and relationship in our life, not just the one we have with our body.

Additional note: Being calm represented by the breath flowing free as well as being gentle does not mean not to challenge yourself. The level of physical exertion should depend on our energy level and mood. If you want to work hard, go for it; if you want to take it easy, fine. Whichever you choose, just stay calm, don’t strain. Also, your breath rate will be determined by your needs for oxygen. Remember, I never said to breathe slowly. I just said to breathe deep and free.

Gentleness

If awareness is the transcendental quality and breath the instrument, then gentleness is the modality of the yoga practice. It is a combination of kindness, calmness and awareness. If healing is the goal, then gentleness is the path. Rationally speaking the harder you are on anything the faster you wear it out. Overdoing it physically can have the opposite effect than intended. Joints can wear down, muscles give out, energy level drops. Practicing gently has a big effect on our longevity. Within this concept of being gentle towards ourselves within our practice we come across the idea of moderation. It seems moderation is one of the powerful by-products of gentleness. Moderation is another word for balance, and health is a state of balance. Balance can be said to be peacefulness or harmony, all true goals of yoga. Gentleness is not only a way of acting, it is a state of mind. A state all the great ones attained. A state that desires to harm nothing. A state of kindness. Gentleness is the quality behind the action. In other words, you may need to be firm in your action to accomplish your intention. You may need to challenge yourself or the situation. You may even need to be harsh. But regardless of how it looks, the quality behind the action is gentle and kind.

A physical health practice is a practice designed to preserve, protect and enhance one’s body. On the physical level, that can’t happen if you are insensitive, aggressive or abusive. Remember, the harder you are on anything, the faster you wear it down, not build it up. Exercise these days seems to be about making your body conform to certain standards of strength, flexibility, size and appearance. It seems health is determined wrongly by appearance. What I’ve noticed is a lot of people are beating themselves up and even making themselves sick trying to look good. It seems that mentality has been brought into yoga. Just remember the purpose of this practice is not to become loose, strong, young, pretty or skinny. The purpose is wellness, and its doorway is gentleness.

Note, injuries occur when our yoga practice is anything but gentle. It will be extremely difficult to hurt yourself or others when gentleness is the priority!!

Also, nothing should ever be excruciating! That's the body sending a clear message to back off. This is the other barometer of whether you are practicing correctly.

Remember, "There is no healing if you are not honoring what you are feeling!"

So be “aware” of the “breath” flowing free and touch yourself everywhere “gently.”

Namaste,

Bryan