My beautiful friend Katie Keith is impossibly glamorous, has three children, is the ‘first lady’ of the successful production company Rattling Stick and has a busy social life. In her own words, she feels like she needs a clone or more hours in the day.
Katie credits yoga however, for giving her the release and strength that she needs and she talks about the yoga she practices and how she benefits spiritually, emotionally and physically.
I love the idea of yoga creating space to quieten the noise of life, so that we have time to really think and understand ourselves better.
Katie's written about the power of yoga and the positive effects her practice has on her. If you already do yoga, Katie’s article will be a reminder of why you do and if you don’t, this might persuade you to take it up.
Namaste Katie 🙏
“Yoga is not about touching your toes, it’s what you learn on the way down.” Jigar Gor
Whilst possibly a little trite, I come back to this quote time and time again when discussing yoga, how it helps me and how it can help us all.
We’re largely familiar with the benefits and language of yoga. We know it makes us strong and flexible, that it benefits our respiratory, digestive, circulatory and hormonal systems and that it calms our minds. What we often lose sight of however, is that yoga is more than its physical advantages. Ultimately, yoga is about a union – the bringing together of the body, mind and spirit, to enable us to really connect with ourselves and therefore our lives.
But what does this actually mean and how does a science, a practice that evolved over 5000 years ago have a place in our world today?
This isn’t a history lesson and I will attempt to avoid yoga clichés, which I know can be off-putting. I will talk about what yoga means to me and how it is a hugely invaluable and ever evolving part of my life.
I live in London. I have 3 children. I work, hard. I am incredibly busy all of the time. I do like to have a bit of a social life when I can but basically I am tired, stressed and in need of a clone and more hours in the day. I'm not unique of course and nor am I complaining. I am very blessed with everything I have but it’s not easy and yoga has become my release, my aid and my strength.
I’ve always been an active and (relatively) healthy person. After a few false starts, I began practicing yoga regularly when I was pregnant with my twins, 10 years ago. Subsequently, I tried a variety of different styles and teachers before discovering Jivamukti Yoga; for me it marries the physical, spiritual, and mental aspects to the practice perfectly.
Everyone’s tastes are, of course, different and it’s about finding a yoga practice that works for us individually. What is important is to find a practice that pushes, challenges and teaches you and not just in the physical sense. Much yoga has become more about gymnastics and that completely misses the point and the essence.
The key word here is practice and that’s not just with regards to the Asanas. When starting on your yoga journey (sorry, I said no clichés but it really is a journey), the focus of the mind is very much on the postures, sequences, the alignment of your body etc. but in time, as these come naturally, more second nature, the focus shifts to the breath and the mind.
Of course yoga makes you fit, strong and flexible, yet is also relaxing and meditative. These benefits are almost instant. The practice of yoga however, really begins when you bring what you learn into the world outside the studio. The hours you spend on your mat allow you the time to take a step back and really observe and watch yourself almost as another person, warts and all. Quietly observing your breath, your body, your mind, yoga teaches you so much about yourself; your personality, how you tick, how you deal with situations, with life in general.
Our lives are so busy and so full of noise, we don’t usually take time to do this, to really think – what makes us happy, what holds us back, what are our weaknesses, how do we react when things are going our way and how when to the contrary, things get hard? Are we kind? Compassionate? Grateful? Judgemental? All these and many, many more considerations and questions come to the fore in yoga. Watching, listening and thinking about how we react instinctively – our habitual rituals, our default settings, is hugely revealing and when we relate our innate behaviour back to our everyday lives, it becomes apparent how we can improve things both for ourselves and everyone around us.
Once we begin to understand ourselves and our behaviour better, we can then start the work on expanding and changing our perspective, helping us to see things differently and more positively. Letting go of that which doesn’t serve us - I know, more yoga speak but think about what it really means? Why bother keeping hold of the stress, the angst, the upset, the hurt when we really don’t have to? Why make things harder for ourselves? Most of the time we’re not even aware we’re doing this. Yoga allows us to take the challenges we face and to try to react differently, to learn from them whilst also focusing on the good and positives in our lives.
This isn’t something you necessarily notice shifting on a day-to-day basis but when you face a difficult time in your life you will genuinely surprise yourself with how you react. How strong and resourceful you really are. It’s not about denying pain or hardship, it’s about dealing with them differently. As expressed by the founder of the Iyengar Yoga method, “Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees.” And it’s not just about the more momentous occasions in our lives, our aim is for yoga to positively influence all we do, say, think and feel, however trivial.
In yoga, we often hear about the Guru – the sage, the mentor. What can sometimes take us a while to realise is that our ultimate Guru is ourselves. It’s not about eureka moments in downward-facing-dog, it’s more about realising that when you relate to something in class it’s because deep down you had the answer anyway. Yoga helps you tap into this vast knowledge of the only thing in our life we can change and grow, ourselves.
There are no absolutes in yoga. You do what you can for your level or how you’re feeling on a given day. Nobody is perfect (even the dancer on your left in the handstand – we don’t know their story). It’s not about being “good", it’s the “good” it’s doing you. I have never felt worse for going to a yoga class and do struggle when I can’t – it’s not something to be dipped in and out of, nor would I want to. No yogi would ever think they’re perfect, that they’ve nothing more to learn, despite numerous Instagram accounts to the contrary. It is a constant journey towards understanding ourselves better and using this knowledge and wisdom to improve our and the lives of others around us. In the world we live in today, I think we all need a whole lot more of that.
"Just like the lotus, we too have the ability to rise from the mud, bloom out of the darkness and radiate into the world"