Un-learning Yoga

Recently a Yoga student sighed and despondently said to me “Oh wow, there’s just SO much to learn.” This student is a bigger guy who has spent the last 25 years building a very successful business but at the expense of his health.

I smiled at him and said “Don’t worry buddy, you already know ALL of this stuff, you’ve just got to UNLEARN what you’ve created in the last 25 years.”

As kids we naturally do handstands on the beach, backbends on the school oval or Acro Yoga when we muck around with our Dad. My 6 month old baby cannot talk or walk yet, but she is already doing Downward Dog, Cobra, Child’s pose, Buddhakonasana and of course Happy Baby’s Pose. This is because Yoga is natural movement! Yoga is simply the way the body is designed to move. This is why Yoga feels so good. There are no props, no gimmicks, no added pressure, it is just you and your body moving as nature intended and your innate intelligence knows how.

The problem is all the stuff we do in between. For example, even just the act of sitting is so damaging to our health. When we sit we close down the hip joints, deactivate the core, disengage the lower body and slump our shoulders forward. This results in reduced circulation and breath capacity, spinal pressure, poor posture, weak core, sloppy digestion and low energy. When you think we sit to eat, drive, relax and work it starts to make sense why Yoga postures feel so foreign in the modern world. There is no chair in nature though, the chair is man made. So coming out of the chair and into a squat like Malasana may feel strange or uncomfortable at first, but really you are coming back to your body’s natural way.

The same applies for asanas like backbends. These postures can feel really uncomfortable for students at first but this is only because we have forgotten what it feels like to fully use our spines. The spine is designed to move three dimensionally; forwards, sidewards, backwards and in a twist, yet most of us just stay straight or hunch forward and that’s it! This is why it can feel super confronting to hang your head back and open your chest in camel pose! But if you’ve ever watched a dog or cat wake up from a sleep they know to stretch their spine out before they do anything else. This is nature’s way and what we innately know. The problem is, with repetition we forget what it’s like to bend backwards and we get stuck in a hunched, closed posture. We become what we do the most.

So practicing Yoga is simple coming back to what our body knows and wants. It may not come over night but with time, your body will thank you for returning to its true function.

Yoga is 5000 years old and has always been practiced for the purpose of healing. Students would go to their Yoga guru like today we go to our Doctor and the Guru would prescribe a series of Asanas to help heal the student with a particular ailment. For example, someone with poor digestion may be prescribed a series of twists and deep breathing to stimulate their digestion. But these days, magazines and social media are saturated with images of ‘perfect’ Yoga postures and we can get so caught up in the ‘look’ of a Yoga pose, that we forget about the purpose and function of that pose. The beauty of Yoga is that if you work to 100% of YOUR capacity, you get 100% of the benefit. So it doesn’t matter if you are in full splits or a metre of the floor, if you work to your full capacity your body will heal and improve from that point.

So if you are new to Yoga, or if you feel you have a lot to learn, stop worrying right now. Your body already knows Yoga, your body already want to practice Yoga, you’ve just got to be patient and let the Yoga do its work. You don’t need to remember all the Sanskrit names, you don’t need to lock your knees, bind your arms or come up into handstand. Heck, on some days you don’t even need to move! You’ve just got to show up, tune in and breathe. Yoga is not something that you will ‘get’ one day, “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” There is only one person that can take that journey and that person is here right now. Just unroll your mat and let the process of unlearning and rediscovering begin…

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