Amazing Senses Part 2: Movement
How often do we even notice the amazing intricate ways our bodies move? Learning to be mindful in movement, teaches us to pay attention, be aware of ourselves, and navigate our emotions, hopes and fears, struggles and triumphs. This in turn guides us to navigate communications in all personal and professional relationships.
In the western world yoga is mostly known as one of the practices used to develop mindful awareness in the body. In its broadest sense however, yoga is about awareness, and anything that allows us to be more aware of ourselves and to feel connected to ourselves and life is a form of yoga. Everything we do can become yoga if it is done with awareness and this is seen as the key to discovering the mysteries of who we truly are. Yoga is said to reveal the luminous intelligence and the beauty that lies within us.
Originating in ancient India, Yoga uses a range of physical, mental, spiritual practices, disciplines, and goals developed in the various yoga schools arising through Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The word yoga means ‘union’ or ‘connection’, referring to both a state of connection and this range of techniques that allow us to connect to anything. A yogi is a person who practices yoga or is an adherent of yoga philosophy in its many forms.
The beginnings of Yoga were developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest known text in any Indo-European language, the Rig Veda. The Vedas were a collection of sacred texts containing songs, mantras and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests.
As the tradition of yoga developed over the millennia, so too did the focus of the practices ranging from the purely spiritual to the very physical with Hatha yoga and Rāja yoga being two of the most well-known schools in the West.
The most archaic form of yoga was called Vedic Yoga, associated with the Vedic sacrificial culture which included a collection of texts, rituals and hymns about bringing praise to knowledge (in their view- higher powers).
The pre-classical period which followed, and overlapped the start of Buddhism 2,600 years ago, saw Yoga came into its own with the Upanishads – the gnostic texts expounding the hidden teaching about the ultimate unity of all things. One of the most remarkable Yoga scriptures written during that time was the Bhagavad-Gîtâ (“Lord’s Song”) whose central teaching is:
To be alive means to be active and, if we want to avoid difficulties for ourselves and others, our actions must be benign and also go beyond the grip of the ego.
The many yoga schools that developed during this time used all kinds of techniques for achieving deep meditation through which yogis and yoginis can transcend the body and mind to discover their true nature.
During the Classical yoga period that followed Raja Yoga developed with what was at that time, a non-typical focus on yoga sutra and philosophical dualism with yoga helping make the separation between matter and spirit, thereby restoring spirit to its absolute purity. The focus was on contemplation to the point of leaving the body consciously and merging with formless reality – spirit. In Buddhism, and when I teach, we call these the bliss states.
In reaction to this the Postclassical Yoga period, and under the influence of alchemy, the focus turned toward rejuvenating the body and prolonging its life. Regarding the body as a temple (not just a container for the spirit) they developed advanced techniques to energise the body and change its biochemistry to make it immortal.. This led to various branches of Tantra-Yoga, of which Hatha-Yoga is one.
In 1893 the Modern Yoga era began after a popular and respected yoga master became an American diplomat, and a wave of Eastern Yogi Masters went to America giving teachings on self-realization. Krishnamurti delighted or perplexed thousands of philosophically minded Westerners with his eloquent talks and wisdom of Jnana-Yoga (the Yoga of discernment). Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, Charles Chaplin, and Greta Garbo were among his close friends, and Bernard Shaw described Krishnamurti as the most beautiful human being he ever saw.
By the 1950’s movies stars to football teams were practicing yoga, and in the 1960’s Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, after his brief association with the Beatles, popularized yogic contemplation in the form of Transcendental Meditation (TM).
TM practitioners introduced meditation and Yoga into the corporate world and stimulated medical research on Yoga at various American universities. And from the 60’s a plethora of new yoga teachers, forms, schools, and disciplines developed throughout the western world each with their different focus – psychology, spirituality, consciousness, kundalini, body, wisdom, sexual freedom (Rajneesh later called Osho with his mystically tinged hedonism), sound, tantra, devotion, silence, non-violence (Dalai Lama).
During this period the number of yoga teachers (all of whom are now dead, developed yoga schools that continue today including: Integral Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Laya ogoa, Karma yoga, Siddha Yoga (a tantric yoga), Hatha Yoga, Viniyoga, Iyengar yoga (which the famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin learned from the master Iyengar himself), Bihar yoga, Bhakti Yoga.
If you are curious about Westerners who have made a name for themselves as teachers in the modern Yoga movement (understood in the broadest terms), check out the encyclopedic work The Book of Enlightened Masters by Andrew Rawlinson. His book includes both genuine masters (like the Bulgarian teacher Omraam Mikhaël Aïvanhov) and a galaxy of would-be masters.
Mindfulness is about coming into the present with awareness of our senses. And awareness is the secret of yoga. Many forms of yoga open up to awareness of the body, with practices which can include specific bodily postures (asana), breathing (pranayama), control of subtle forces (mudra and bandha), cleansing the body-mind (shat karma), visualizations, chanting of mantras, and many forms of meditation.
As we connect to our body we start to feel or experience it. The experience of connection is a state of yoga, a joyful and blissful, fulfilling experience.
Studies show Yoga can help cultivate rewarding personal and professional partnerships
Relationship difficulties can be the most explosive and debilitating aspects of our lives. When our love life is good it’s wonderful, but when it’s bad it’s crippling! When our relationships at work are easy, we love work, and when those relationships are tense or difficult, work can feel like a nightmare.
The greatest area of mindful transformation and self-growth lies in the mirror of our relationships both intimate and general. In relationship we witness the best of ourselves, and all the other parts of ourselves as well. Those shadow parts of ourselves that we prefer not to see, or own, our grumpiness, impatience, intolerance, sulkiness, petulance, despair arise inopportunely and spectacularly. All those unwanted familiar guests of the mind can arise unbidden, stirred by hopes, fears, old hurts, and interactions. All our secret hopes and joys we’ve been too timid to let show- our inner poet, drama queen, playful puppy dog all arise as well, showing us in our fullness… A fullness that if we haven’t already fully accepted and embraced will feel exposed in relationship.
Any aspect of our-self that we haven’t become aware of or fully accepted is vulnerable to generating a strong emotional charge and reactive behaviour, projections, explosions, and judgment.
Relationships are challenged at this point, and can be damaged unless one or both of the people can be present to what is happening and find a way to navigate the terrain. To turn the spotlight onto their own inner responses and familiar guests of the mind and stop projecting onto the other.
Yoga and relationships
Yoga helps us be more aware and connected to ourselves, all that we normally like, and the things we have not always seen- or wanted to see, and in this process of awareness, and acceptance, we connect more deeply to ourselves. As we accept and connect more with ourselves, so too we can be more accepting of that in others which we might have judged or rejected
In a workplace, this means seeing people for who they are, what they bring, and accepting that they have their own challenges. In an intimate relationship, the awareness allows suppression of feelings and sexual intimacy, the false feeling of separation to give way to real connection.
By practicing Yoga, as with all forms mindfulness, we come to know and love ourselves, we find self-acceptance, a union of opposites within us, and awareness and sensitivity to our own needs. When we are self-aware, and self-accepting, we become more self-responsible and self-loving, and are also able to bring these qualities to our relationships with others.
Science shows that Yoga improves relationships
Studies have shown that yoga and meditation reduces stress, calms the nervous system, heals PTSD, enhances overall health and wellbeing and boosts energy. There are many studies showing that yoga improves the quality of sleep, enhances mood, improves your sex life and modulates the stress response. Yoga keeps you flexible and feeling sexy, in mind and body, and this can allow you to be more open and less judgemental.
Yoga can enhance your quality of sleep
One study in Jerusalem showed conclusively that a yoga and meditation practice improved sleep and quality of life in a group of older adults with insomnia. In 2010, a study into the effects of yoga on male sexual functioning was conducted. A group of men who were exposed to 12 weeks of Yoga showed that Yoga was an effective method of improving all domains of sexual functions in men.
In a study on Mindfulness-based relationship enhancement
The psychologists discovered that mindfulness enriched and enhanced the couples’ relationships, both improving individual psychological well-being and the wellbeing of the relationship. Mindfulness promoted the relaxation response and psychophysiological changes that are the opposite of stress induced hyper-arousal. The couples displayed greater compassion, an increased ability to problem solve, acceptance of self and others and greater resilience to stress.
Ultimately, yoga and mindfulness are about awareness and acceptance and allow us to develop trust in ourselves, in our own discernment, and this allows us to have more clarity about, and trust in others.
International Mindfulness Teacher and Speaker, Clinical Psychologist
Founder of the Australian Institute of Applied Mindfulness
Your Amazing Senses
At the Australian Institute of Applied Mindfulness we have just launched the Amazing Sense Series of events and articles which we hope will be of benefit to you. Do join us if you can at the Mindfulness and Yoga Event and feel free to invite friends. Strictly limited places at this one. Happy moving, Liana Taylor