Yoga In The Media

There are as many reasons to come to yoga as there are ways to shuffle a pack of cards (that’s 80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636, 856,403,766,975,289,505,440, 883,277,824,000,000,000,000 in case you were wondering), but I often wonder just how many people are missing out because of the way yoga is portrayed in the media?

Unless you’re really into yoga, and are doing some specific research, chances are when you come across yoga photos online it’s going to be some celebrity on a sun soaked beach performing asanas as the sun goes down, all bronzed and gorgeous and serene as hell.

yoga google screen grab

Or if not, then it’s an article on some new weird type of yoga that, let’s be honest, was probably written for people to have a good chuckle at the hippy weirdos.

You rarely get articles on the normal, average, day-to-day yoga that most of us do, the yoga that happens in a church hall in Croyden on a wet Wednesday afternoon. But in a world of click-bait headlines, with so many things vying for our attention, is that really a surprise?

Yoga
image © distelfliege, via Flickr

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve suggested yoga to people only for them to tell me “But I can’t even touch my toes!” With so many pictures out there of experienced practitioners doing advanced asanas really well people just think “Well I’ll never be able to do that, so why even bother trying?” With all the emphasis on the physical benefits of yoga that happen further down the line, people miss out on the positive mental benefits they can experience right away.

Which is why, when I come across a good yoga story that isn’t all about bendy celebrities, I like to highlight it.


image © Lee Ann Olwage, via sevaunite.org

I recently came across this story on the BBC News website, which I found quite inspiring. (NB: If you’re outside of the UK then chances are you won’t be able to view the content. If so then here’s another article on the project that I found on the Guardian website instead.)

In summary, the Prison Freedom Project is about bringing yoga to prisoners in South Africa, allowing them to learn and enjoy the benefits of yoga, and enjoy a feeling of liberation despite their incarceration. It is a voluntary, contribution driven organisation, that has already made a difference to many inmates, and will no doubt help countless more find health and happiness in their lives. To me it embodies the true spirit of yoga, and I like what they’re doing so much I decided to make a donation.

***

I’m not saying we need more ‘positive’ yoga stories out there. There’s plenty of those already. What we need is more ‘average’ yoga stories out there. More stories of normal people incorporating yoga into their everyday lives. I might even go so far as to say we need to stop elevating yoga to unattainable heights, and bring it back down to earth (which, ironically, is where most yoga happens, lol).

It’s understandable people want to show off when they do something well. No one wants to share pictures of themselves being average, or, even worse, doing something badly. But, in the interests of science, and to get the ball rolling, here’s a few pictures of me doing some asanas to the best of my abilities at the moment (with examples of how they look when you get good).

my forward bend

my plough

my pigeon

There are many aspects to yoga, and many benefits to be had, some of which you have to work at, and some of which you experience from day one. Anyone can do yoga (wherever you are in life, mentally or physically, that is where you begin; that is your starting point), and everyone has something to gain, one way or another.

Each practitioner is different, each experience is different, and each benefit is different; but all of it is positive, and worthwhile, and beneficial; and if it’s not, it’s not yoga.

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Be Friends With Yourself

It might seem like an odd thing to say, ‘Be friends with yourself’. You probably just assume you are already friends with yourself. You must be, otherwise why would you hang out so much? But look at it like this…

do you like the hat?

Imagine you’re sitting with your best friend, and a long-time friend of theirs that you’ve only just met. During the course of the conversation your friend’s friend keeps making comments to your friend like;

“You’re getting really fat you know.”

“That was a really stupid thing to say.”

“No wonder no one fancies you.”

“God, you’re a miserable ****!”

Would you put up with it? No, you wouldn’t. You would defend your friend, pointing out the many good qualities they had. And you would recognise (quite rightly so) that this ‘friend’ of theirs was a poor friend indeed, and that they would be much better off not having them in their life.

So if that is the case, why do we put up with such abuse from ourselves?

I’m always doing it. Criticising myself for saying stupid things or doing stupid things (see, even now!), having a go at myself for not being the right shape, and, worst of all, putting myself down for not practising enough and not being more advanced in my yoga. In short, I put up with abuse from myself that I would never put up with from anyone else; ever!

A good friend is kind, helpful and generous. They want the best for us, and support us in the things we do. They are not blind to our faults, but they find a way to help us realise our mistakes in a way that doesn’t make us feel bad about ourselves. They are honest with us, but also accepting of us as we are. They want us to be happy, and they want to help us find that happiness wherever it may lie.

So be a better friend with yourself. Be supportive in your honesty, celebrate your achievements, laugh about your ‘failures’, and give yourself a break when your really **** things up; because that’s what good friends do.

Bad Yogi, Bad Vegan, Bad Karma?

a story from the Teacher Training Course;

There’s this little cafe in Reith, the wee villagey type place down the hill from the ashram. When you’ve had enough of ashram life, and the TTC, it’s a God-send. You can pop down there for a quick cuppa and just pretend you’re ‘normal’ (whatever that is) for a little while. But!

They do have the most tempting cakes. Beautiful, moist, chocolatey cakes that could tempt the most staunch of vegans (have no doubt, eggs and butter are abound!).

Now I resisted for almost the entire TTC. I was a good boy. But in the last week a bunch of us went down there for a break, everyone else was having a cake and, I’ll be honest, I cracked! I had some cake. Want some proof? Here it is.

bad vegan!

I wish I could say I felt guilty, but the fact is it was lovely, and just what I needed at that point in time. I ate it, and didn’t give it a second thought.

Flash forward to the evening meal. It’s the usual fare or veggies, grain, and a healthy dollop of salad. I’m just sitting down, tucking in with gusto, when I catch some movement out the corner of my eye, buried deep within the bowels of my salad. I take a closer look and find, much to my surprise (and his too for that matter), a little green caterpillar, thoroughly drenched in salad dressing and no doubt wondering what the heck was going on?

Needless to say I took the little fella out to the garden and set him free, but it occurred to me that maybe he was a message from the Universe. Basically,

“Ok, you want to eat animal products? Well here you go, eat this!”

That got to me a bit, and did kind of get me thinking about practicing austerities like veganism, with the odd ‘accidental’ lapse here and there. Plus it kind of felt like the Universe was mocking me a bit, getting a bit of a dig in.

But then I thought about it. You see, I know that the Universe is on your side. It wants to help, and it wants to help you do the right thing. It doesn’t do things like mock and punish. It is all loving and will do anything for you. So what was the caterpillar all about?

I realised that of everyone who ate that day, I was the one that got the caterpillar, and nobody else. Someone could have seen it, freaked out, and squashed it. Or they could not have seen it and eaten the poor little fella. But it was I that was given the opportunity to set him free, and in doing that make amends for my earlier indiscretion. And when I realised that I felt a whole lot better about my lapse, and about being offered the opportunity to make things right again.

That being said, I wish I could tell you I have had a will of iron since then. I mean I’ve been pretty good, but when it comes to cake I still lapse every now and then. Want proof? Here’s some pics of my latest indiscretions.

kirschstreusel -cherry crumble cake
 
indiscretion 2
 
indiscretion 1
 
What can I say? I do my best, but at the end of the day I’m only human, and the Austrians do make exceedingly nice cake! 😉