by Lucinda Staniland
Bodies are strange things. They are our home—our only means of experiencing and connecting with the world—and yet many of us are profoundly disconnected and cut off from the lived experience of the body.
Add to that our collective obsession with the superficial experience of the body, and the relationship becomes even more confusing and complex.
We wanted to know how the yoga community are responding to this challenge, so we asked a group of NZ and Australian yoga practitioners & teachers,
How has your yoga practice informed your relationship with your body over time?
Together, their answers explore the paradoxical nature of embodiment. They share how yoga can liberate the physical body in profound ways, while at the same time teaching us that we are more than the body.
Karin Sang, Yin Therapy
Yin Yoga and discovering yoga asana practice from a functional perspective has liberated my asana practice and relationship with my body.
From being a former professional dancer, I used to approach my yoga practice like a dancer – from an aesthetic point of view and through pure ignorance, I forced my body into poses which were neither good nor healthy for me but fulfilled the “perfect” image of universal yoga alignment.
I have since developed a healthy relationship with my body – working from the inside out – feeling and listening to my body’s innate wisdom to guide me into the poses, respecting my personal alignment determined by my unique bone structure, proportions and ever changing physical, emotional and mental states. I now use the poses to get into my body, rather than forcing my body to get into the poses. It may not always look “pretty”, but if it feels good, it’s perfect!
Additionally, my yoga meditation practice is teaching me to let go of my pre-occupation with my physical body. As a woman and former stage performer, I grew up doubly obsessed with my appearance and through meditation, I am on a journey of self-discovery learning little by little to disentangling my ego from my true self.
Nicky Knoff, Knoff Yoga
When young I was into exercise of all types: swimming, skiing, field hockey, baseball, tennis, squash, javelin throwing, and bush walking.
I was living in Japan and travelling the world when I started practicing yoga in October 1970. The more I practiced and learned, the more I appreciated the art and science of yoga.
Yoga changed my relationship with my body because it taught me the importance of a holistic and balanced practice. To get the full benefit of yoga, I needed to include all the limbs of yoga. Asana is great, but incomplete without Pranayama and Meditation. Asana, Pranayama and Meditation are incomplete without the understanding and application of Yoga Philosophy.
Our bodies change over time. As we age we lose much of what we took for granted. The beauty of a holistic practice is that as one area contracts another expands. As asana becomes restricted, pranayama and meditation offer more.
Long-term yoga practice has taught me that we are much more than a body. When we are young we focus on the physical, but as we mature we can continue to expand our consciousness and grow into our potential as spiritual beings.
Many years ago my practice was about working the body to its limits. There was no real awareness, just athletic endeavour. It’s changed now! I was less in tune with what my body needed from day to day. As I’ve got older, the asana has become more about checking in with where my body and therefore mind, is REALLY at. What that translates to is more kindness and compassion for myself. Fair to say that now my body is more limber through the mindfulness of my practise. Ahimsa right? As Lao Tzu says ‘If compassion does not include yourself, then it is incomplete’.
James E. Bryan, Knoff Yoga
Before studying Yoga with Nicky Knoff in Auckland, NZ in 1982, I was running marathons as an antidote to sitting on my ass all day in an office job. I found the long-distance training meditative, as I used to focus on my heartbeat and turned running into meditation.
I started attending yoga classes three times per week for the first three months and then seven days per week for the next four years, before attending a Teacher Training Course at the Iyengar Institute in Pune, India in 1986.
When you practice intensively, you quickly discover that your body is connected to your mind and your mind is connected to your body. It was very obvious to me that if I practiced in the mornings, my days went much more smoothly.
Over time, my relationship with my body deepened as I explored the extremes of asana practice and I found there were edges you needed to be careful with and not over-step. I found that it was not the shape of the asana that was the goal of practice, but the mind-state from the practice itself.
My long term practice has confirmed the body is the temple of the spirit.
Jo Stewart, Garden of Yoga
I discovered yoga when I was around 18. Although I enjoyed swimming while I was in school, I found sport boring and pointless – I wasn’t competitive – why bother chasing a ball around, especially when I wasn’t that good at it?
Like any teenager I was surrounded by media telling women to look a certain way – again it was all about an external goal.
Yoga was all about feeling good though – and just being present in your body, the reason to practice was internal. While there wasn’t an end goal, it feels empowering to get stronger, and very satisfying to stretch out a tight muscle. I was studying art at the time, and yoga really helped me.
Moving, stretching and focusing on my breath put me in the right state of mind to create. I used to make a lot of art about media and body image, and now as a yoga teacher, I feel like I’m still working with the same themes – but more internally. Yoga is a powerful way to explore, celebrate and appreciate who we are.
Neal Ghoshal, Contemporary Yoga
Looking back 20 years ago, I would spend my working day, every day, sitting in a poorly designed office chair, in front of a screen, almost permanently tired. My first few Yoga classes back then were a massive wake up call to begin connecting to my body, and I still have such strong memories of these first Yoga experiences – I just felt so good! Energized and relaxed, brighter, lighter and deeply curious!
Healthy Yoga FEELS wonderful to my body. I feel more connected to myself. Although we like to separate body, energy, emotions, mind and spirit, in fact, these aspects of ourselves are deeply woven together.
The more I practice Yoga, whether it be a restorative or an active sequence, Yoga Nidra meditation or Pranayama, the more sensitive and alive I become in my body. I am not only listening to what my body is suggesting to me – Yoga is also about responding positively to these messages, rather than overriding them.
As I develop a deeply sensitive and kind relationship to my body, I find the rest of my life follows – my family, friends and work relationships become more sensitive, kind and loving.