A practise of patience

Kat reflects on how four months of trust building with her newly adopted cat has influenced her yoga practise.

Yoga off the mat

Most people think yoga is about what we practise on the mat but there’s a whole side to it that we can practise off it too. Taking responsibility for another being’s welfare is a big thing and can teach us so much about ourselves and our behaviours. I have learned to use this responsibility as a tool for self-reflection.

Collection day

At the start of October, we set off to collect our beautiful, silver grey tabby cat, Aurora, from a rescue charity. She was petrified of anything that made a sound or moved. It was going to be a challenge to make her feel at home.

The routine

Within a day or two of arriving at her new home, Aurora slowly ventured out from under the bed. She then started to pad and purr manically. She was happy. She was starting to trust us.

For the first month, we had to move quietly and slowly to avoid breaking her trust. If we didn’t, she’d lash out as a warning or hide herself away. Aurora made me more mindful of my body and its movements. To me it highlighted when I was showing someone my irritating side. She taught me to slow down and reflect on how my behaviour affects others.

Practising patience

In the past, I have always had confident cats who act like they’re the boss. Aurora wasn’t like that. She needed comforting, security and encouragement. I realised she preferred being spoken to rather than touched. So we made a conscious effort every day to spend time talking to her, telling her she’s beautiful and brave. Eventually, she started to look at us differently and I could tell she was feeling safe. She knew we weren’t ever going to hurt her.

As the months went by, gaining Aurora’s trust filled my free time. I wanted her to have a proper home, a place where she knows she’s loved. Having a shy cat helped me to connect to a part of my yoga practise that can be easy to forget about. We can go through life day to day without giving ourselves time to reflect, observing what’s really going on around us. Seeing Aurora’s vulnerability made me feel compassionate. It was something I was exposed to every day and couldn’t avoid. Living with her meant that I could connect deeply to that feeling of connectedness and empathy that are a key part of the teachings of yoga. I was actively aware of her emotions and stress levels and absorbed them.

I had to consistently approach Aurora quietly, sitting a little away from her and waiting for her to accept my presence. It took time. There was nothing I could do apart from wait.

Having to act this way with Aurora saw me bring this into my own yoga practise. I had gotten into the habit of only doing a short practise in the morning and rushing around afterwards to get to work. Knowing that this rushing around unsettled Aurora, I noticed it unravelled all the good of my yoga practise too. My stress levels would increase almost instantly so I started to change my routine. After my practise, I would settle down with a cup of tea and a book instead of dashing around. I started to give myself an extra 10 minutes of ‘me’ time before the start of my day. Aurora had taught me that it was OK to take my time with things. It was OK to make self-love a priority.

By nature, I am a little impatient. I found waiting for Aurora to accept and trust me a huge test. I tend to have a defeatist attitude so my perseverance with her helped me find an inner strength when it came to hard life situations and harder yoga postures. I found that if I could wait for Aurora to love me, I could try and try again with the more difficult situations in my life and those tricky to achieve postures I sometimes avoid. Both would eventually happen. Sometimes the best things in life take time to happen.

Four months on

Aurora is like a different cat now. She is still hesitant but she asks for lap cuddles nearly every day. Every morning, she jumps on to the bed next to me for a cuddle before I get up.

At the time, not grabbing her and squeezing her made me struggle with showing her affection but the rewards for having that patience at the start are immense. We have given an abused cat a wonderful, secure and loving home. Her meows tell me she is thankful every day.

 

 

Remembering our responsibilities in our yoga practice

Something to remember...

Many people find it hard to find the time to get to a yoga class and that's where a home practice can make all the difference. But sometimes, it's even hard to motivate yourself or find the time to practice at home (especially with all the distractions around you). 

I recently read in the Bhagavad Gita (the A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translation) that as much as our yoga practice is important, so are our other duties in life. Page 342 text 32 says, "He is the best yogi because he does not desire perfection in yoga for his personal benefit, but tries for others also...The yogi who has withdrawn to a secluded place in order to meditate perfectly may not be as perfect as a devotee who is trying his best to turn every man toward Krishna consciousness."

The Bhagavad Gita is one of the highest regarded spiritual texts from India. And here it is reminding us that it isn't necessarily our duty to run off into the mountains and live in a cave away from 'life'. Perhaps some of us are meant to live a crazy, busy life and find what time we can for our yoga practice.

Be open to disruption

I find that a lot of teachers put pressure on you to have a dedicated morning or evening practice every single day. As much as yoga is a huge part of my life, so are my family, friends and other hobbies. We all have to make a living. We all have to show those we care about that we love them and, lets face it, we all need time to bum around and switch off. The art of yoga is just that - balancing.

Life is one big balancing act. Therefore, it might not be practical for us to spend every single morning practising yoga. It might be that we have an intense week at work and we need a lie in on a few days to avoid becoming run down. Or we have a sick relative so we don't get chance to practice for weeks. Whatever the scenario, it's important to remember that you can only do your best with what you have. 

Remembering the deeper reason as to why we practice yoga 

Yoga is the practice of, quite simply, becoming a better person through increased self-awareness. However, yoga is not meant to be a selfish practice.  The more we can connect to our own breath and to how our body feels, the more we can notice around us and the more empathy we can show towards others. 

We should never ignore our other duties for our asana practice. Yes, we can make our asana practice a priority but we shouldn't exclude others from our lives or not socialise to fit it in. When we can't find the time to practice or something happens to disrupt our practice (screaming children, cat throwing up - anything!) it doesn't matter. It doesn't make you a bad yogi. It just means you need to find your balance again (and not through your tree pose). Life is not perfectly planned and nor can your yoga practice be. It's good to have discipline and regularity in your practice but it's no good beating yourself up when things fall out of routine.

Our duties in life are much bigger than our asana practice. Our main duties are to show compassion, love and understanding to all beings. So if your child is screaming and you're in the middle of Savasana - the bigger thing to do is to help that person in need. Whatever we practice on the mat is ultimately for the good of others. There is no need to have a greedy self practice where you ignore the other important bits in your life. Expand your practice out into the world. 

Savasana - an active posture?

You love going to your weekly yoga class. You love the thrill it gives you. You love how peaceful yet awake you feel after. But what you might not like is that period of time where you aren't moving and your intellectual mind starts to kick back in...

The dreaded relaxation at the end where you lie in Savasana completely still with only your breath producing movement in your abdomen. This is most people's idea of hell after some form of exercise. This became especially apparent to me when I taught in gyms. People would become very fidgety all of a sudden, even if they had held the most graceful warrior, as still as a statue.

What is it about lying down completely still that we just don't like? 

In my own experience, if I have had a particularly stressful or worrisome day, my yoga practice has been my saviour. The physical movement energising me, the focus on my breath drawing my mind away from my troubles and the feeling of accomplishment I get when I manage that difficult posture, all helping to bring me back to the present moment. But I have also found Savasana to be the most difficult on those days. My mind may behave while doing the asanas but as soon as I lay down to relax, my mind starts again. Those same repetitive thoughts, going over and over in my head. And no matter what I do, I can't seem to switch them off. 

So how do you achieve the calm Savasana where your mind stays as quiet as it has during the physical side of your practice? 

One way to overcome the mind-body battle in Savasana is to see it as an inclusive part of your practice. This is not something separate from your practice - it is complimentary to it. By viewing Savasana as another posture, it can help to keep the mind peaceful. It's not like slouching on your sofa. It is an active asana. Just as you would guide your body with your breath in any other asana, you can do the same in Savasana. I find it helps to settle myself into it by taking 5-10 deep breaths before scanning the body. These 5-10 breaths are my equivalent of when I hold a standing, balancing or seated posture. It's the same principle. My body is in a certain, still position and my focus is on my breath.  

Another way to keep your mind from becoming overloaded in Savasana is to give it something to focus on. As soon as you lie still and have nothing to pull the mind back to, it will drift off to your everyday worries and concerns. Try counting your breaths, focusing on the individual parts of your body or even tensing and releasing your body parts to draw the awareness further into yourself.

Not only do we seem to struggle with staying still (probably because we live in a society where being constantly busy and on the go is seen as a path to success), we seem to lack the understanding about what this posture does to the body after your practice.

With any form of exercise, if you don't warm up before or cool down after you will likely end up with an injury - think of runners. Your Savasana is your final cool down. It's the time you give yourself to allow the body and it's energies to come back to a normal state, to re-balance. Your yoga practice wakes up all sorts of things in your body; it stimulates hormones, lowers blood pressure, increases circulation (to name a few). By finishing in a relaxation posture, your body can return to its normal temperature (particularly important if you've done a heated yoga class or vinyasa for example).  Without ending in Savasana you aren't allowing your body to readjust and find it's new balance. 

Savasana isn't just there as a physical check in at the end of your practice; it's there as a mental one too. Although most people seem to find Savasana hard to accomplish, it's important to allow yourself that quiet time to notice where your mind is now at. We might enter our practice with lots of energy and consequently, a slightly overworked, agitated mind. Savasana gives you 5-10 minutes to capture that difference. It allows you to realise exactly what effect your practice has on your body and mind. 

My advice is to not skip your Savasana. Use it as your final posture. Your restoration. Your closure. Have 2 minutes or 10 but whatever happens, delight in it. If the mind is still busy, let it be busy. If it's quiet, capture that moment and know that that quiet, calm place is always inside you. It's always there. Use your Savasana to capture the pure essence within.

Getting back into meditation

It's been quite a while since I gave myself the time to meditate. I became very good at making excuses as to why I couldn't find the time. It wasn't until I had a week or two of stress and anxiety that I realised what was missing and what might actually help me. 

I started to consider meditation before I began my practice again. I had had a long absence from it and knew my concentration wouldn't be very good. I knew my mind would drift and think about all the things that were making me stressed or anxious. I knew I had to give myself time to consider what I wanted the meditation to do for me otherwise I would be practising mechanically and on auto-pilot, with my mind elsewhere.

This is when I turned to the app store on my phone, somewhere I never thought I'd end up looking for meditations. There are so many apps to choose from. I wanted to get an idea of the meditations that are available as I normally practice 'Japa'. I wanted meditations for different feelings, emotions and objectives. I wanted there to be a person talking me through it as I felt my mind would be less likely to wander off if there was a person to bring me back to my practice. When left alone, I am usually sat in what looks like a meditative state but I'm typically just thinking about the day ahead of me or what I have to do in the week.

I heard of Headspace through a training course at work so decided to check it out. I understood it was useful for gaining mindfulness and helping with stress levels. It seemed like the sensible choice for me.

Headspace is free to download with the 'Take 10' sessions being completely free too. These sessions are a ten minute meditation for ten days. Andy (the creator of the app) talks you through simple breath meditations which I found helped me to escape my jittering mind. I began to feel that inner sense of calm I had lost.

After a few of the 'Take 10' sessions, I could feel the positive effect it was having on me and felt connected to the idea of meditation again. I decided to look into paying for a year's subscription. I'm not someone who would invest in something like this but I could feel it was worth it, especially when it works out at £4.99 a month for a year's subscription. £4.99 for your health and well-being in the comfort of your own home sounds like a good deal to me. Buying a subscription with Headspace opens up so much more of the app with the meditations targeting specific things which was exactly what I was looking for. 

I am still continuing my journey with Headspace. You have to complete the foundation course (30 days to complete if you meditate every day) before it unlocks the specific packages. I find that keeping them locked and knowing that I want to experience them, keeps me on track. I actively look forward to waking up and starting my day with Andy talking me through ten minutes of blissfulness.