Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Two Must-Have Yoga Accessories

Forget your mat, your water bottle, your Lululemon pants and your Prana headbands. Eye pillow? Not really necessary. Toe sox? Please. Yoga accessories can add up to a small fortune if you don't get the teacher discounts! 

There are two things you really can't do without in a yoga practice, and no one manufactures them. Without these two things, yoga's many benefits will elude you. What are they? Support and Space. To practice yoga, your body needs a support to rest on and a space to move through; not just externally, but especially internally. Your body can't move if your mind won't support it and if there isn't enough mental space to add the practice of yoga to your life. 

Two of the most quoted Yoga Sutras are abhyāsa-vairāgya-ābhyāṁ tan-nirodhaḥ ||Samadhi Pada, 12||, and sthira-sukham-āsanam ||Sadhana Pada 46||. These sutras teach us to balance effort with detachment and strength with ease. This is why we aim for the perfect balance of movement and rest in our classes, and why yoga both strengthens and de-stresses us. I have heard this concept described by teachers as "hang on, let go," know when to relax and when to try harder, when to grip and when to release, when to contract and when to expand. All work and no play makes Jack a dull yogi. 

Thinking back to the last yoga retreat I attended in February, I pulled out my notes from Judith Lasater's lectures and on the very first evening with us, she said, "When the body feels supported, the whole being feels supported. When we are supported we can let go. We can abide with ease." She likes to translate sthira-sukham-āsanam as "abiding with ease." Support within and without allows us to let go and be healed, soothed and restored by our practice. We consciously connect to our support, feeling the floor holding us up, releasing our shoulders over a block, resting our backs on a bolster or even releasing the weight of our heads into the teacher's hands as she comes to assist us. As we do this, our whole being feels supported, internally and externally. We learn to let go in the mind and the body. 

In our classes we move through a space specifically designed for yoga. If we have a home practice, we carve out a space where we can execute our postures and sit in meditation. But yoga can be practiced anywhere when we can open up some internal space. One woman who comes to my classes likes to practice on planes; she travels frequently for work and for pleasure. She has discovered the value of internal space, so her practice goes everywhere with her. If our minds are overcrowded and constrained, our breath and bodies will follow. When we can slow down our thoughts and our breath, we can consciously relax the body enough to do simple yoga postures and breathing, even on an airplane. 

When we begin our practice, at home, at the gym or in a yoga studio, we can always start by connecting to our space and support, internally and externally. We can find our comfortable seat, feel rooted into the floor, a block, blanket or bolster. Finding that support, we begin to release. As we close our eyes and focus on the breath, we open up space in the chest, in the abdomen, and in the mind. As the breath slows down, the thoughts slow down. We tap into the naturally occurring space and support in our minds and bodies, two things we can't ever lose if we want to practice yoga. 

In our culture of materialism, it helps to come back to the basics. What's essential? What do we really need? In yoga, and in all of life, we require support and space. In our home, in our relationships, in our work, when we travel...whatever it is we are doing, without these two essentials we fall down, we are neglected, trapped and uncomfortable. 

Set an intention to cultivate support and space in yoga and in all areas of your life; balancing these essentials, you cannot fail. 

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