Over twenty years ago, I tried my first ever yoga class. I was young and full of impulsive desires to make headway in my world. It was suggested to me that hatha yoga would help me to play sports better, become stronger, and prevent injury within my body. This really appealed to me, because firstly I wanted to be stronger without putting weight on as I needed to be fast and agile in my sport. Secondly, and more importantly, I already had a bucket load of injuries that were preventing me from training at my peak and causing me to miss out on some big matches.
So I went to this yoga class in a cold room, as you can imagine in the west coast of Scotland. My body was aching, and I felt super tight in my body, yet I was actually curious and full of hope that this was the answer - this was going to fix all my challenges. As I entered the room there were five others. I spoke to the lady and she asked some questions, and gave me a yoga mat and the class began.
We did not move for the first ten minutes, then we did five postures and laid down for about twenty minutes. I felt relaxed, but I did not feel present or energised, and most definitely not challenged strength wise. My flexibility was pretty poor and I struggled to achieve all of the five postures, as I compared myself with the others in the room. Savasana was good, even though I hadn't planned my day to shiver in the damp and cold Scottish weather.
Needless to say, I never went back, but I did try other styles of yoga and practised on and off with no real consistency. I did feel the benefits physically, and most definitely mentally.
Fast forward to 2006 when I accidentally walked into a vinyasa yoga class, thinking it was just another yoga class, to then discover it was no ordinary yoga class or vinyasa yoga class. I will never forget the first words the teacher said, "If you can focus on your breath for the next ninety minutes, then you are practicing yoga. If not, you are not. You might as well go to a stretch or exercise class."
He then constantly talked about finding strength yet ease in every posture, which I found extremely challenging. The intensity had me super present and held me accountable to not allow my mind to wander off into story or fantasy land.
I left that class feeling so inspired and empowered that I went back every single day, sometimes two or three times a day for years after. In fact, I changed my whole life, so I could stay in Sydney and practise, and then become a yoga teacher in 2007. Before, I had planned to become a helicopter pilot, but vinyasa yoga shifted something within me pretty quickly and my whole view on life changed.
So what happened in that vinyasa yoga class that grabbed my attention and made me keep coming back for more, which changed the direction of my life?
Vinyasa means linking together; in vinyasa yoga we focus primarily on breath and movement. This starts with sun salutations A and B to open the body and create a mind-body connection. From there, we move into standing postures where the movement becomes more internal by holding the postures for five breaths or more, which forms the gateway into the subtle body and the movement of energy: prana and apana. This is key to strengthening your nervous system and focusing your mind inward, setting the premise for meditation to spontaneously arise even within your asana practice. The strong standing series prepares the body and mind for balancing, back bends, core, inversions, deep spinal and hip releases, and finally finishing with pranayama and meditation, before resting in savasana.
Vinyasa yoga offers many benefits; some of which are:
- multi-dimensional movement in all planes
- modification for all levels
- concentration of mind
- balance of energy within body and emotions
- deeper levels of self-awareness
Self-awareness replaced my natural default of being self-conscious - being worried about what other people thought, constantly focused on my little self that kept me playing small, and creating anxiety and massive frustration within myself.
Because I understand how limiting being self-conscious is and how powerful and freeing self-awareness is, I am compelled to share this with all my students. Every class, workshop, and training I lead is steeped heavily in freeing students from the entrapment of the little self through the power of vinyasa yoga.
The poses and the linking of the breath is key to building self-awareness. When this is taught and practiced correctly, students become more aware of their senses rather than being unconscious to them and becoming a slave to them. We call this the lower mind “manas” in yoga. When we fully understand how this process functions within our body and mind, we can then begin to build the muscle of self-awareness and weaken the ever relenting addiction of self-conscious.
Understanding sequencing and breath is key, together with knowing how to clearly communicate to the unconscious minds of student. This brings a great shift to students' consciousness, which transforms the natural tendencies of the human mind to seek safety and security that suffocates our spiritual growth and human evolution.
The philosophy I follow is that of Patanjali, and I align all my teachings and methodologies with the eight limbs of yoga. In my humble opinion, it is okay to get creative with sequencing and teachings as long as they are aligned with a tried and tested methodology. The reason I like the eight limbs approach is because the yogis discovered how to transform human consciousness not through their mind but by observing the very nature of their mind.
Sharing the teachings of yoga through my own personal experience is my life’s work. Observing the undisputed power of yoga at play within students' bodies and minds, transforming them beyond belief and measure, truly setting them free to express themselves fully to play their part in the world whether it's teaching yoga, supporting their family or bringing to life the deep urge within to heal and support the world around us, is my life's purpose. I look forward to continue to share this with all.
By Blair Hughes