The truth about Yoga
photo credit: 68photobug Yoga and creativity has been a trendy topic recently in the innovation space. The thinking is that if you do Yoga then you will have more creative ideas and therefore be better placed to innovate. This isn't wrong, but maybe just a little simplistic. You may well have an awesome idea whilst in Pincha, but doing Pinch isn't the way to have one. What helps is simply calming down and through that, being in a space where you have the chance to really look at the world and yourself. It's peeling back the layers of judgment, opinion, likes, hates, loves, should/shouldn't, he did/she did,...all that stuff doesn't matter. When you get into a state of Yoga, I don't think even innovation and creativity are a goal anymore. Sometimes it can be a side effect.
What defines Yoga?
Yoga is not about bending yourself into a pretzel and doesn't really have anything to do with flexibility. "Asana", they physical postures, are but one of the 8 branches of Yoga. The full eight are listed in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, and they are:
- Yama: your ethical standards, or how you conduct yourself. There are 5 Yamas (Non-violence, truthfullness, non-stealing, contience, non-covetousness).
- Niyama: Self-discipline. There are 5 of these too (Cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self-study, surrender to something bigger than yourself)
- Asana: The physical postures
- Pranayama: Gaining mastery of the breath
- Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses
- Dharana: Meditation
- Samadhi: Basically, the experience of great peace
You have to be practicing all 8 (or at least have the intention to), regularly, to really say that you are practicing being in state of Yoga. Sharon Gannon says:
"You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state".
Going to a Yoga class every day and then shouting at people while driving, drinking wine in the evenings and feeding yourself a ton of sugar through the day is not going to help you be more creative. If you are working stupid hours every day ask yourself why? Is it really for the joy of the work? Or is it to get promoted, to get a raise, to afford more stuff that you don't need? Yoga really is about everything you do in your life. Not just that hour you spend at a Yoga studio. It's about what you eat, what you say, how you treat people, your actions, their consequences, your intentions, your focus.
The most important thing to learn: Breathing properly
Breathing is very important. If you stop doing it, you will die. If you do it very badly, you will become ill. Can you think of a few people in your current meetings who have their shoulders up around their ears? It's impossible to get a full exhale by doing this, and they are often in a constant state of inhalation. This causes the body to be flooded with C02 and triggers the adrenal system. These people are unsurprisingly tense and anxious, or even angry. Can you think of people who hold their breath on the inhale in conversations, while they wait for you to finish? How do these conversations typically go? In my experience not so well. Encouraging people to hold the breath on the exhale (if they absolutely feel they have to hold their breath) is very useful.
When we focus on our breath and practice long slow smooth inhales and exhales we allow the body to shift into a state of homeostasis, that is, an ideal balance between stress and relaxation, alert but comfortable.
Our central nervous system is designed to cope with 2 natural states of being:
- Sympathetic nervous system is triggered by stress “fight or flight” - Parasympathetic nervous system is indicative of a relaxed state “rest and digest”
When we are stressed, taking long slow breaths, particularly on the exhale, we are reducing the effects of the sympathetic nervous system.
Yoga is a state of mind.
It is about developing the ability of the mind to remain focused on that which we choose to focus on, rather than on that which the mind tends to focus on. I often say that the mind is like a big puppy, very excited, difficult to control and potentially hazardous, as it jumps around sending vases and whatnot flying all over the place. When you try to meditate (like in seated meditation practice), it's as if you have put the puppy out on the balcony so you can get some peace. The problem is that it will bark, scratch at the door, whimper, anything it can do to get your attention, it will try. Yoga exercises are like throwing the dog a bone to play with. It soon forgets about you and you can get some peace finally.
To reach a state of yoga we need to calm down. There are many methods in Yoga practice to lengthen the exhale, so that the body and the mind can calm down. The body is a good way to the mind, but it's quicker to reach it through the breath. It takes seconds to begin to feel different. Incidentally this is why some say that "the postures are empty". They're just there to serve a purpose, to calm you down, to enable to come into yourself, free of self- judgment, free of self-punishment, free of self-opinion. Just you being you.
Once you get into that place, you can focus the mind on whatever you like. William James said "Our lives are the sum total of what we choose to focus our attention on".
Where is your attention focused?