Play Yoga

By Suzi Hall Jan 2, 2014
You are visiting Thailand, either for the long or short term. Your body is already in a permanent state of relaxation from the beach, hammock and cheeky cocktails. By now you have purchased your easygoing, flowing trousers and may be toying with the “sans underwear or not” question. You notice signs offering Yoga and the final piece to the puzzle clicks into place.

Perhaps for years you have considered doing yoga after observing the blissful post ‘yoga drunk’ look on your peers at the gym; maybe friends have been bragging about their own 60-day Yoga challenge in a hotter-than-the-sun studio, or it has simply been too long since you last rolled around, flopped out and sank into a mat. Being away from the daily grind is the perfect opportunity to take time out for you. Where else offers the chance to rock out Sun Salutations actually facing the sunrise, or to lull into a deep Shivasana with the sun setting and the sound of the waves washing over you?

Finally, you have decided to try a Yoga class, but there is such a plethora of options and a variety of Yoga instructors, styles and places of practise that sometimes deciding between them is confusing and stressful, completely opposed to how we should feel when considering Yoga. Don’t be intimidated - not all classes require you to wear white, contort your body and chant “Om” while the teacher wafts around with incense (although personally that’s my favourite part). Male or female, it doesn’t matter; old or young, injured, out of shape - none of these matter. It is a practice, not about perfection!

This leads us into the juicy importance of what Yoga ‘actually’ is; The roots of Yoga (Sanskrit: योग) traditions, teachings and practices date back to ancient India. It was only recently (in the grand history of yoga) introduced to the western world* The ancient Rishis of India recognised that humans are often caught in a cycle called 'Samsara', which means the wandering and perpetual flow of change, birth and death.

They realised that human desires are infinite and insatiable, which keep us caught in Samsara and unable to reach Nirvana. Yoga was derived to liberate us and give us peace from our endless wanderings. Whether or not you believe in reincarnation, the relevance of our continuous desires today is significant, for example our need for i-products and the media depictions of the perfect body.

Physical perfection and busting out a beautiful balanced one-legged, one-armed pose are therefore not the goal. In Yoga, the body is a vessel for breathing, which connects us to the internal workings of our minds, helping us reach a state of peace, awareness of ourselves and our essential nature. For some, this is the union of the body with the divine, but for the atheists out there it can also be considered the union of the mind, breath and body.

The big secret is the practice of physical asanas is only 1/8th of Yoga. More importantly, the eight limbs of Yoga teach us that the art of living off the mat, the sense of calm and serenity that is found during class, can be cultivated into our daily living.

These are the eight principles:

1. Yama: Codes to live and treat others by, including non-violence, truthfulness, not stealing, chastity and not coveting.
2. Niyama: Self-discipline and spiritual observance. 
3. Asana: The physical postures practised in class.
4. Pranayama: Life force extension - yogis believe control of breathing not only rejuvenates the body but actually extends life itself.
5. Pratyahara: Sense of control and withdrawing of our senses. This withdrawal allows us to objectively observe ourselves and our habits that are perhaps detrimental and most likely interfere with our inner growth.
6. Dharana: Concentrating and focus on a single point. 
7. Dhyana: Meditation and ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus.
8. Samadhi: Absorption into the Universal; peace and enlightenment.

In Thailand, Yoga is fast becoming well-known, and its current popular image seems to be as a method to lose weight, which can be a happy side effect of regular practise. I do think Thai’s have the right idea when they "Leyn Yoka" literally translating to “play yoga”. The practice should be fun and light-hearted, without focussing on what we can’t do, but with a sense of gratitude for what we can.

*In the U.S the number of people who practiced some form of yoga has grown from 4 million (in 2001) to 20 million (in 2011)

Yogi terms:

Sun Salutation: The connecting Asanas used to warm up. Asana: Physical postures adopted in a Yoga class. Shivasana: A final relaxation posture lying in corpse pose. Rishis: A revered Hindu elder with greater knowledge and wisdom. Hatha: An umbrella term for all asana styles; usually a class labelled Hatha uses slower movements and longer stretches.

Vinyassa: A strong breathing and movement system; for each movement, there is one breath. Ashtanga: Commonly a strong and powerful class, producing intense internal heat and sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs.

Yin: Asanas are held from one to five minutes, with a strong influence from Iyengar, which even recommends some stretches being held for up to 20minutes!

* F.A.Q Yoga classes

I have never done yoga before what can I expect? Let the teacher know you are a newbie and take it easy. Adopt a child’s pose to rest as often as needed. It is about your journey, so refrain from comparing yourself to others, don’t worry, be in the present and enjoy. Do I need to be super bendy?

Yoga teaches us to be more flexible in our bodies so we can extend that flexibility to our minds when facing hardship. You just need to breathe when facing moments of tightness in your body.

What do I need to bring? Wear loose, comfortable clothes that can stretch with your body. In Thailand it can get hot, therefore water is a must and a small towel for sweat. I always recommend repellent to prevent people slapping themselves in Shivasana (not particularly relaxing)

For more Yoga tip bits connect with Suzi on twitter @suzipt_yoga

" Yoga is like a candle. Once lit, the fire cannot be extinguished. The stronger the practice, the brighter the flame" B.K.S Iyengar

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