Pratyahara, the fifth limb of the Ashtanga Yoga Tradition, has been the focus of our classes this month. Pratyahara is classically defined as “withdrawing of the senses” but it can also be defined as “drawing together.” We are drawing together our awareness of our inner landscape with our outer landscape.
Here’s how you can begin:
“As you stand, first, become hyper-aware of the sounds you hear in this room. Now, move deeper and listen to the sound of your breath moving in your own body. As you breathe, become aware of the feeling of your clothes and also the air on your skin. Now, move deeper and become aware of the feeling of the blood moving in your own veins. As you feel, become aware of the color behind your eyelids. Commit to looking deeper. Go inside. Listen, feel and look.”
(I’m sure that’s adapted from some great text or great yoga teacher, but I’ve been using it in my own instruction for so long that I have no recollection of its original source. A few of you asked me to put it in writing for you… it’s all yours!)
Why pratyahara? Because pratyahara deepens our skill of listening. When we listen with greater attention, we become convinced that this lived experience is infinitely abundant. Infinitely supportive. Infinitely joyful. Simply because we are moving and breathing. When we listen with greater attention, we become more skilled at paying attention to our own inner voice, our own inner wisdom. And…after a while, we discover that our own inner voice is no different than the voice of our Creator.
Your yoga practice is a great teacher because it presents this lesson: how to accept what our bodies are able to do (and how they look!) while simultaneously challenging our bodies to move beyond their perceived limits to find more freedom of movement and mobility. In the process, we learn to be gentle with our self-judgments and with our lower backs. We learn to love our bodies and love the simple fact of being able to move. And we do the best we can.
The Yoga asanas are just one way we learn, through trial and error, through sweat and success, how to stop striving to find love outside of ourselves, and instead, find love inside.
This can only be done by practicing loving-kindness. World-renowned author and Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön presents the talk “The Freedom to Love”, where she elucidates her modern-day interpretation of the ancient practice of loving-kindness. This is also called metta meditation.
It’s worth the watch.
In this short video, she explains how learning to practice loving-kindness changes your perspective on life. Loving-kindness makes “a big difference in terms of your ability to be able to relax with yourself… It’s sort of like connecting with the best of ourselves,” Chödrön explains.
Yoga is the same way: it offers us a chance to connect with the best of ourselves.
I’ve found, personally, that when I connect with and appreciate ‘the best in myself’ I’m more appreciative and accepting of ‘the worst of myself.’ When I’m practicing loving-kindness toward myself I’m more accepting of my own flaws. When my anxiety is high, or my self-esteem low, or when I’m feeling guilty and overwhelmed trying to meet the impossibly high expectations of others, I take a big yoga breath and remind myself: I’m doing the best I can. This is the same thing I learned to say when I repeatedly fell on my face trying to learning pincha mayurasana (forearm stand) for three years. I’m doing the best I can, I’d say.
When I learned to say this, to love myself despite my biggest anxieties, I also learned to accept (with more ease) people in my life who triggered my anxieties. This was not easy. But, the more I practiced loving-kindness towards myself, the easier it was for me to realize:
“That person is probably doing the very best he can… even if it’s not what I would want him to do.”
Then I could relax (a little bit more). And love (a little bit more). Want to be able to relax into yourself? (Even it it’s just for a few blessed minutes?) Well. Here’s your chance.
Finish February, the month of LOVE, by learning this metta meditation.
Say it every day. With sincerity. Start loving yourself a little more. Let me know how it goes.
*Note: parts of this blog post and this image can be found on Westport Yoga’s blog accessed here.
A little quote of inspiration I’ve shared with my students this week reminded me of this insane article about the colors of emotions actually showing up in our bodies. Yoga reminds us daily that the emotional and physical bodies are linked, but according to this research (follow above link), that connection is actually visible.
“Yoga is about clearing away whatever is in us that prevents our living in the most full and whole way. With yoga, we become aware of how and where we are restricted — in body, mind, and heart — and how gradually to open and release these blockages. As these blockages are cleared, our energy is freed. We start to feel more harmonious, more at one with ourselves. Our lives begin to flow — or we begin to flow more in our lives.”
– yoga teacher, Cybele Tomlinson
This is such a beautiful sentiment. When I’m teaching, I use this phrase: “Inhale in space and healing, exhale out all the tension, toxins and stress.” (Now I just need to add on: “For real.”)
Next time you practice: imagine that the space and healing in your inhale is a vibrant color. Cherish that image and begin to let that color clear away your stress.
Yoga is meant to be shared. Yoga is for Every Body, Every Age, Every Person… young or old! Come share a high-quality workout and quality time with your little one:
Mommy and Me Yoga Class Thursday afternoons, 5:30- 6:15 pm
mommy and me yoga
Classes are interactive, fun, and easy-going so that yogis of every age (even as young as 5 weeks!) can enjoy the benefits of the class. Moms stay for the 45 minute session and share in stretching, strengthening and singing. Each class is specifically designed to be age-appropriate and developmentally challenging. See more details about Kids Yoga here.
4 classes: $40. (Classes do not have to be used consecutively… we understand that conflicts arise.)
First class begins on Thursday Feb 20. Take a mind-body break with your little one after work and then head home feeling refreshed. All ages welcome.
Craving a hearty, heart-healthy treat for your Valentine? This recipe combines whole grains, veggies, and yummy goodness all in your crockpot. An easy, vegan, delicious Valentine’s Day Breakfast. Yes, please, and thank you!
zucchini carrot cake breakfast farro
Use a medium sized bowl. Add:
2 carrots, finely shredded
2 zucchini, finely shredded
1 tbsp maple syrup or honey
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 cup farro (used pearled or semi-pearled)
Lightly oil your crock pot to prevent sticking.
Pour into the crockpot:
1 1/2 cups almond milk
Set on low overnight (6 to 8 hours). In the morning, scoop it out and top with chia seeds and walnuts. I found that a little extra honey was needed, and that adding a banana made it much more delicious.
Serve with love! Happy Valentine’s Day!
Not sure about farro? Me either, until I read this article by NPR’s Laura Weiss. Make sure to check out her delicious recipe for Tuscan Soup and Kale Salad.