By Vee Bright
"Yoga is all about doing that which balances our lifestyle, so that we can keep doing what we enjoy doing, regardless of our age. Our habits either help us as we age or they hinder us." Yoga Teacher Tom Wilkens - Dancing Cranes Yoga & Massage
Tom Wilkens – How Yoga Balances His Life
Yoga allows me to use my body to calm down my mind in order to access something beyond my hyperactive mind. It is a spiritual science that balances the different parts of my life so that I can intuit what needs to get done at any given moment. Yoga is all about your relationship with your teacher or guru. For me, this happened in 1996 when I heard Goswami Kriyananda speak at the Temple of Kriya. He taught me how to alter my life in order to achieve contentment, to operate in this world without violence, to use my body as a mirror of my mind, & to control my nervous system though the use of various breathing exercises. As I turned my senses internally, I discovered more about my scattered mind. This caused so much suffering in my life & tension with others. As I practiced the individual postures, I soon found it easier to focus my attention on one item. The screaming noise in my head soon settled down to one distinct voice. Here, I found an intense joy that eluded me for the first half of my life.
Motivation For Teaching
This experience of joy, of finally discovering my true nature, myself, motivates me to teach others. My classes create an oasis from the incessant demands of our thoughts. When a student comments that my class bores them, I tell them great! Now follow your breath, observe the air entering & leaving your lungs. Place your awareness inside your torso to feel how involved breathing really is, & how your mind can become fascinated with it. Each of us keeps our mind trapped in our thoughts, so that we seldom experience our bodies. As our mind settles down, the sensations in the body become more apparent. These messages provide essential information that keeps our awareness fixed on the reality of our current circumstances. My students learn anatomy and how the body really functions. When yoga poses are done without awareness, then an injury can so easily happen. My adjustments use of one finger and only when the student does not use the indicated set of muscles. Every yoga pose looks different on each body.
Dancing Cranes Yoga & Massage - Class Structure
Most regular yoga students find that practicing yoga balances their lives as well as their bodies. My typical class starts with some sort of centering exercises to encourage the mind to remain focused on the body. We can do breathing exercises or gentle moving from posture to posture in a flow that invites the mind to participate in the rhythm. Again and again I encourage students to stay aware of their breath. As the muscles warm up, difficult yoga postures get introduced that build on each other. This increased stress level taxes the nervous system in a controlled manner. Finally the cooling or more relaxing stretches prepare the body for lying down for a few minutes. Here, the nervous system engages in the relaxation response. The breathing pattern deepens as the muscles relax and are weighted down. Then when leaving the class, my students are refreshed and ready either for bed or to face the challenges of their lives.
Some of the Benefits of Practicing Yoga
Each of us uses our breath to direct our nervous system. My students learn how to keep this direction of the nervous system conscious. Yoga is all about doing that which balances our lifestyle, so that we can keep doing what we enjoy doing, regardless of our age. Our habits either help us as we age or they hinder us. So much of our pain comes from repeatedly doing certain actions incorrectly. These movements develop from a lack of awareness of how the body actually moves in time and in space. In essence, a yoga posture requires patience to move the bones in a way that allows the full flowing of the breath. It takes five breaths to move into a posture, plus five additional breaths to gain the benefits of it. Each pose should feel expansive. If a pose inhibits the expansion of the lungs, then the body and mind feels constrictive. All this communication from the body requires silence to fully engage in the stillness that comes during the practice. When we listen to our bodies fully, it allows our minds to rest. The only change that can happen resides in this moment of time. Here, right now, exists the joy that eludes us so easily.
Yoga brings to each individual what they want to get out of it. If you see yoga as just another physical exercise, then that is what you will get out of it. Yoga can provide you with so much more, but it depends on how much you want to alter the path of your life. Each of us has worked really hard to get our bodies in its current state. Yoga uses the body as a mirror, to show what the mind does exactly to create the current conditions we find ourselves in. The study of yoga and of karma helps to balance our life. Our suffering arises from a life lived in an unbalanced state. An injury can be viewed as instructive path back to balance.
My yoga teacher, Kim Schwartz, has stated over and over again; "Without understanding the proper function of the body as it relates to the pose, we simple move deeper into our dysfunction." Another teacher has stated: "Doing a yoga pose badly, does not make it less painful, only less effective." When I trained as a yoga teacher back in the 90s, doctors respected us for our extensive knowledge of anatomy. Injuries happen so easily in a yoga class, and we at Dancing Cranes remain committed to minimizing this. Injuries can be avoided by listening to the body from a place of stillness.
Medical investigation shows that many corrective and therapeutic benefits stem from even the most basic poses.
Mountain pose is the most basic standing posture. Yet to do it effectively, requires real awareness of how our feet press into the floor. Place the feet hip width apart, with the heels wider than the small toe. Lift the toes up, so that your weight shifts slightly back on the heels. This engages the thighs to push the head of the femurs back into its socket. The pelvic girdle lifts the spine up, with the rib cage opening up the chest. Now, outwardly rotate the upper arms or humerus bones so that the shoulder blade or scapula squeezes slightly toward the spine. The chin sits parallel to the floor. Here, fully fill the lungs up now that there is room to expand them. This alignment can increase lung capacity some 80%. This pose can be done anywhere, like waiting in line, for public transportation, or an elevator. Namaste~