Most people in Ireland now have an idea of what is meant by ‘Yoga’: if you asked someone, they would most likely say something like, ‘getting yourself in a knot’ or more seriously, ‘stretches and controlled breathing for relaxation’, or ‘they chant “Om”, don’t they?’ Classes are often advertised in sports halls and doctors sometimes advise patients to take up a yoga practice as a means of dealing with particular health problems: stress, maybe, or bulging discs.
Yoga’s one of those odd practices that doesn’t really fit into the West’s idea of sport, though. It’s not competitive (although there are now, bizarrely, yoga competitions, particularly in North America). It’s not just physical exercise either. Asanas, or poses (although asana actually means ‘seat’, or ‘sitting’) are just a part of an enormous array of formal or ritual actions, all designed to create a more meditative sense of awareness and bring ‘union’ between the physical and psychological. What does that mean, though, for you and me?
Well, for a start, it means getting to know your body and your thoughts (Leonard Cohen fans, take note). You’ll find a lot of yoga classes taking place in rooms with large mirrors, and that’s OK because you can learn a lot by looking at yourself from the outside. But at some stage, you need to develop a sense of yourself from within: being able to tell the position of your feet relative to each other without looking down, for instance. Being able to tell what mood you’re in takes a little longer for some of us, but it’s incredibly useful to be able to do so because then you can begin to practice observing, rather than just reacting, to what is going on. And that opens up the possibility of responding differently, more beneficially for yourself and everyone else. It starts with the body, but it includes the whole person!
Every situation presents its own challenges. Ireland in 2013 is no exception. But taking responsibility for your own health is hugely empowering and means you can meet those challenges with far more resilience. It’s not the only thing to do – economic, social, environmental challenges need to be discussed far more – but yoga is a part of that movement to build ‘anti-fragility’ into our very bones. Try it. You might really surprise yourself!
Lucy runs Yoga classes in Belmullet on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. She is also a PhD candidate at UCC, writing a thesis on ‘Self Respect and the Environmental Crisis’ that includes a description of the benefits of zazen, or Zen meditation. She received her teacher’s certificate from the YTTC (Yoga Therapy and Training Centre) in 2002 and is a member of YTI (Yoga Therapy Ireland). She writes a blog at www.yogazazen.wordpress.com, is contactable by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by phone at 0861286449.