Freewheeling Yoga

Can you remember what is was like to be at the top of a hill on your bicycle and about to set off.  No brakes.  Flying down the hill at top speed.  Exhilarating.

Or maybe roller-skates were more your thing - I remember the fear and excitement of starting the roll down the steep hill beside our house, knowing that I could fall (that I had fallen in the past), but doing it anyway.  Just for the fun of it.

I'm not sure when we start to put our brakes on (metaphorically speaking); when we stop doing handstands and being confident in our bodies and cycling down hills without touching the brakes.  Puberty maybe, when we don't want to stand out from the crowd and our bodies become more often an awkward embarrassment than something to be gloried in.

But imagine riding a bicycle with the brakes on a little bit, imagine how much harder you will have to work to propel yourself forward; how frustrating it will be; how much more energy it will take you to get anywhere; how you will hamper your own progress.  Putting our brakes on like this holds us back in life, as in our yoga practice.

You might want to spend some time thinking about what form your brakes take: it could be fear, or an internal voice that tells you that you can't, or shouldn't.  Or it might be an intellectual thing, a doubt that something will work, or a suspicion that as there is no scientific proof for an experience, then it can't be viable (but in yoga all sorts of things come up that are powerful and transformative, but are an affront to science).  You might have lost your confidence somewhere along the line.  You might hide behind your conviction that you have to do everything for everybody else before you attend to yourself.  So many different ways to hold ourselves back.

Consider your asana practice and the things you think you can and can't do... the postures that you will never be brave enough to attempt, the ones that are for other, stronger, braver people.  Notice how this mindset limits you.

Next time you practice, come to your mat with the intention of freewheeling through it.  Ignore your inner critic.  Every time a doubt comes up - throw it in the long grass.  Every time you feel impatience, fear, irritation, hesitation, uncertainty, scepticism, whatever your thing is - consciously set it aside.  Take your brakes off.  Bring the boldness and the courage you brought to freewheeling down the hill on your bicycle to your yoga practice.  See what happens.

A good way to tune into this feeling is to practice with your eyes closed.  Invoke kalpana (imagination) and visualise your perfect pose; feel it as perfect from the inside, rather than looking at it critically from the outside.  It's not someone else's body or someone else's pose - it's wholly yours and your version of it is wholly perfect in that moment.  Give yourself the freedom to fully commit to each pose and see what that feels like.

In meditation, just dive right in.  Notice as you do this what form your 'brakes' take... it might be doubting the point of what you are doing; it might be the feeling that there are other more important things you should be doing; it might be that you are impatient to finish up and get on with the day; it might be your never-ending thoughts that keep you stuck.  These are the ways that you limit yourself and your potential.

As you continue to deepen your meditation practice, you'll notice them more readily ('Hello, old friend') and perhaps you'll find a place to put them - somewhere out of the way while you get on with the business of meditating.  Here are some things that work for me...
  • Imagining a drawer or jar in your mind's eye where you store distracting feelings when they come up.  You could have one labelled for each distraction... fear, for example, or impatience.  When those feelings come up you mentally scoop them up and store them away.  Put a cork in the jar; push the drawer shut.
  • Consciously moving the distracting thoughts out of your mind and down into your body where you can let them melt away, or soften into nothing.  An effective place to move painful thoughts is the the space behind your breastbone in the centre of your chest (your heart-centre).  You can breathe the thoughts there and feel them warm and melt.
  • Visualise thoughts; see the sentences and the letters and take them down into your body and visualise them melting away... they might be ice melting in warm water, or sugar dissolving.
  • If you are confronted by images or scenarios that are unpleasant (and all sorts of things come up during yoga practice, be it asana, or meditation) you could try welcoming those images or thoughts and enquiring into them to see where they come from and where they need to go.  Try not to get intellectually involved with them; just feel how they feel and notice where in your body they are.  Once you have noticed, you can let them go.
However you manage it, see if you can move those distractions out of the way so that you can get on with the work of your yoga practice.

This is also an opportunity to ask yourself how you limit yourself in your life.  Have you become someone who doesn't do this or that?  Have you become set in a certain way of doing things that makes you resistant to change?  You might have become a certain person for friends and family - the one who's always available?  The one who's reliable?  The one who is disorganised?  Do you embrace these definitions, or do they restrict you?

So, try taking your brakes off.  Like freewheeling down a steep hill it will be thrilling, dangerous, enlivening and inspiring.  Imagine what your unlimited self might look like and how vibrant and powerful that self could be.

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