I live in a busy urban area, so when I have some free time, I love to take walks through the Sussex countryside. These jaunts out of the city are a chance to admire the natural landscape and stroll through unfamiliar and beautiful terrain.
I like to show students that yoga is like walking through our own natural landscape. Taking time to notice the shape of the body, the curves, undulations and uneven ground. Recently in classes I’ve spent time encouraging students in savasana to explore the lay of the land. To accept and admire their form as much as they would the countryside.
Yoga in it’s completeness is a way of life that allows for total transformation. But the physical postures, or asanas can serve as an introduction to this distinguished wisdom. Asanas reintroduce us to our bodies. Once we become friends with the physical, going inward to the spiritual becomes much easier.
It can be hard to see this True representation of yoga on social media. Images and posts frequently focus on the physical. This is not a blog to criticise the ‘beautiful and advanced yogis’ but I am going to suggest we’ve gone off piste and need to find our way back to the path.
First, lets take a stroll around the back of your body; Lay on the floor in savasana (or if you’re reading this at work, think about laying on the floor), legs long, your arms by your side palms face up to the sky and just observe the curves of your body. Notice there’s a gap behind your ankles, the backs of the knees, a little one around the lower back, and another curve at the back of the neck. This is your ‘anatomical position’ –basically how we look while lying on a mortuary slab. Remember this shape.
I work with professional athletes whose training causes muscles to chronically shorten. In their sport it’s not uncommon for them to be unable to fully straighten their legs at the end of a game. –Consider that for a moment; their movements are so repetitive that they can’t easily return to an anatomically neutral position.
Now have a think about your daily movements, how do you spend the majority of your time? If you have an office job and commute, it’s likely you spend more than 40 hours a week sat down. You’ve taken yourself a long way from your natural anatomical shape; muscles in the back of the body atrophy and chronically shortened and the shoulders slump and round. Our habitual patterns cause a change in our natural landscape which, if left untreated, can cause long term problems.
Honour your landscape
Yoga can be guilty of altering the landscape too drastically, this can lead to injuries as we tear the body apart. Some poses can take the body out of a normal range of motion, and as long as the muscles and tissues give us that length, those very ‘flexible’ poses are ok, but we need to practice moderation. I like to say that we should treat the really bendy postures like having a cake, it’s nice to have a treat, but having cakes every day become problematic and unhealthy. Enjoy playing with the edge of poses, but don’t make it a regular habit.
Accept and enjoy your landscape
People often ask me if yoga will help them lose weight and look better, and I reply that ‘YES! The weight loss is incredibly liberating!’
As we learn to breathe and move, we stop feeling so uptight, we learn to relax and the benefits of this are enormous. There’s been a lot of evidence to show the effect that cortisol (stress) has on the body, and in particular adipose (fat) tissue gathering around the stomach. Which is why feeling stressed about the need to lose weight is counter productive, and often leads to yo-yo weight gains and loses.
I am acutely aware of the pressures placed on physical appearance and the only way to avoid it, is to not subscribe to it. That’s the weight loss I’m talking about, a whole weight off my mind! We feel great after a yoga practice, and one healthy choice frequently leads to another, so it’s not uncommon for people to make different dietary choices or walk instead of use public transport and in so doing, they may find those few kilograms the wanted to shift, drop off. Whatever changes you think you want to make, start from a place of acceptance.
Finding the way back to your path
If there’s one asana you want to master, make it Savasana. This pose is much underrated but has a vast learning potential. Most of what you need to know about safe alignment, starts here.
Get to know and love your natural landscape. As a Yogi, you have a chance to role model a healthy relationship with your body. Give us a new paradigm to subscribe to.
Cultivate your inner landscape, plant seeds of change and allow your thoughts and emotions to act like the elements; water and nourish those seeds.
Rosie Iles-Jonas teaches public and private yoga classes in Hove and is the Yoga teacher for Brighton and Hove Albion FC.