In this month´s yoga article we explore how to connect to our spirit through yoga. Of course, there are many different understandings and ideas about what one’s spirit is, and John has explored these in more detail in this month’s other article introduction to spirituality.
Spirit is a broad concept and can have many interpretations and perspectives. For the purpose of this article we consider that one´s spirit might include a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves. This sense of connection might come for each of us in different ways. For some people they might find this connection through community, or organised religions. Some might find it through music or the arts, whilst others might find it in the mountains or the sea. Often connecting with our spirit entails a search for meaning in life or feeling like we are in a state of flow. It can also mean connecting with our inner world and understanding ourselves on a deeper level. There are many ways to connect with our spirit, but for me as a long-time yoga practitioner one of the best ways I have found to connect is through yoga.
So how do we connect to our spirit through yoga?
Yoga in its wider sense contains many parts or “limbs”. With yoga, most people focus on three of these limbs – the yoga positions (asanas), breath work (pranayama) and meditation. However, there are many other aspects of yoga which you can read about in this external article in Yoga Journal about how to practice the eight limbs. Yoga provides a broad philosophical base and many concepts to work with. In this article I explore some of these concepts, and other ways to connect to our spirit through yoga.
Getting to know ourselves better
One of the best ways we can access our spirit through yoga, is by practicing Svadhyaya, or self-inquiry. This is a practice of getting to know ourselves better.
I personally like to check in with myself every time I step on the mat. When we practice yoga we are in essence our own laboratory. Each of us is unique and we change on a daily basis. Every time I come to my yoga practice, I like to ask myself how do I feel; physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I like to end any formal meditation or asana practice with the same questions. This way we can notice how the practices are affecting us. There are many different types of yoga practices available, and some might suit certain people better than others. Therefore, for me this constant questioning can really help us develop a greater understanding of ourselves, and ensure we are choosing practices which nourish our inner being.
Setting a truthful intention
In yoga philosophy we have the concept of Satya, or truthfulness. I personally interpret this as meaning we should be truthful to ourselves.
There are many reasons why someone might start a yoga practice; for example, to stretch, to relax, to develop strength. Often after a while of practicing we may begin to realise that as well as becoming more physically flexible, we also start to become more mentally flexible. Once we start noticing some of the benefits yoga can bring it is useful to then set an intention for our practice. Often our intention may be something that helps us connect to our spirit. So, for example, if we are feeing stressed, or anxious the intention we might set could be ‘I am calm’. The intention should always be framed in affirmative language, like it has already occurred.
When we work with an intention in our yoga class, such as ‘I am calm’, we start to recognise the physiology associated with being calm. Once we know what it feels like to be calm we can start making small changes to help us get back to that calm space.
Relax and quieten the mind with meditation, or yoga nidra
Another key way we can connect to our spirit through yoga is via meditation and / or practices such as yoga nidra. These types of practice withdraw our attention from external stimulus and help us turn our awareness inwards. For more about meditation see our earlier article what is meditation and what happens and Yoga Nidra for relaxation, inner peace and rejuvenation.
I think we can all agree that it is hard to feel connected to our spirit when we are feeling stressed! One of the key components of an integral yoga practice is with working with the breath (pranayama). There are many different breathing techniques with different aims and outcomes, including relaxation. For relaxing and connecting with the spirit I would recommend some simple breath awareness practices, or techniques that help us slow our breath down. For example three part yoga breath is a great method for reducing stress and improving our breathing technique.
When we practice such breathing techniques we are putting our awareness and intention inside of ourselves which can help us focus inwards.
Yoga is a great way to increase our self-confidence through accepting ourselves. For example, here at La Crisalida Retreats our yoga classes are attended by people from all walks of life, of different ages and body shapes. A good teacher will make everyone feel welcome in their classes, and will give everyone permission to practice with the body they have today. Practising together in a supportive environment can be a wonderful way of developing this self-confidence. Personally, I have met some of my best friends through yoga, and I know some lovely relationships have been made here at the retreat. When we meet a Sangha, or group of practitioners, we can often feel like we can discuss some of the deep stuff. This enables us to open our mind and gives us permission to explore more our spirit.
Another lovely way to enhance a yoga practices’ ability to help us connect to our spirit, is by combining your practice with Journaling. You might just make a note of what practices you did, but you might also like to reflect on how they made you feel, or if you had any insights during your meditation.
I hope you have enjoyed this month´s article. If you would like to take some time to explore some of the above suggestions and connect with your spirit through yoga consider joining one of our yoga retreats here on the beautiful Costa Blanca, Spain.