In my past two decades of teaching yoga, I’ve seen a lot of evolution in the yoga world. I’ve loved watching new poses come into the mix, some borrowed from creative minds and some from other disciplines such as circus school. I never thought I would be interested in a one arm hand stand for example. I thought, “this is just flashy,” but then I realized the challenge kept me fresh and gave me something to progress towards. I am no longer a naysayer and practice this and other “new school” yoga moves almost every day.
That said, having just taught one month of intensive Blissology Yoga Teacher Training course focusing on the ins an outs of yoga alignment, I am recommitted to making people realize my stance on yoga progression. I strongly believe that advanced yoga needs to be viewed not just as flashy, challenging poses, preferably done on the edges of cliffs or waterfalls; nay, advanced yoga lies also in being able to do so called “basic” poses with precision, breath and presence. This needs to remain the foundation of yoga.
One afternoon during the YTT, I wanted to run our Yoga Foundations course so the students could see how to explain so called “simple poses” like upward dog or chaturanga to beginners. It become clear that this work was not just for beginners. Even people who had been practicing yoga for decades loved going back to basics and learning how to do them well. It was a joy to spend whole afternoons looking at what muscles need to turn on to make these poses feel light yet stable to explore what the feet, pelvis and hands do in the pose with a fine brush instead of in broad brush strokes. There is a whole world of detail that isn’t boring but outright exciting in this work. There needs to be a resurgence of this type of study in modern yoga.
Over the years, as thousands of more yoga teachers pour into the incredibly competitive global yoga market, there is more and more emphasis to find something fresh and exciting in the practice. This means that teachers will step up their sequencing game, make killer playlists, and throw lots of challenging poses into the mix.
To really do yoga with precision, you need to make people aware of what they are doing by plugging into their bodily feedback loops and slowing the tempo down. In way too many yoga classes I’ve observed, the tempo seems to be speeding up as this is what creates sweat which is an easy sell in our body conscious culture.
Imagine trying to play jazz before mastering the scales. This is an analogy for what I see in the modern yoga culture.
I believe that we need to spend more time ingraining a solid alignment foundation in yogis; and as experienced yoga teachers it is our responsibility to the next generation (of yogis) that we do so.
I always remind our graduating teachers that every yoga instructor is trying to strike a balance between detail and flow—and it’s a tricky balance. If you concentrate on the details of the poses, often the classes loses flow and become a clinic or workshop.
Yet, there is a third option. When we slow the pace down just a little and create an experience of harmony between mind, body and breath, concentrating on precise yoga can lead to the state of mind we all love called “flow.”
This means we need to let people know why they are doing the poses, what the benefits are, how they should feel in the pose and let their internal experience guide the poses.
It’s the opposite to being guided from the “outside in” and feeling like every pose needs to fit a perfect photo. This is where we progress to in our month long YTT.
There is a lot of room still for inspiring playlists, creative sequencing, philosophical themes and even options for advanced poses for those who want to go there in the class. Let’s walk before we run though. Alignment is and should be the foundation for all yoga, beginner or advanced. After all, cultivating a strong practice of alignment will help our bodies to continue to practice our yoga as we age, with more freedom and no injuries.
Sit on a rock in the forest or on a beach and get quiet. Allow your gaze to be soft while you become aware of how your senses interact with the natural world.
Don’t forget to share any photos on social media using hashtag #blissologyproject + #natureappreciation
Spiced fruit bowl:
Eating fruit seasonally is an incredible way of aligning our body’s ecosystem with our larger environment as seasonal fruits provide us the vitamins and enzymes we need to boost our wellbeing in a particular season.
Serves 1 – 2
2 cups fresh, seasonal fruit. For a spring bowl use berries, for a summer bowl: stone fruit, tropical fruits such as papaya, mango, pineapple and bananas, for a fall bowl: pears, apples, persimmons and maybe even jicama; and for a winter bowl: stewed fruits, or citrus fruits.
1 tbsp orange blossom water (this is my secret ingredient that adds so much flavor. Find it at a middle eastern market)
pinch of cinnamon
½ tsp lemon or lime juice
bit of raw, runny honey if needed
pinch of sea salt + black pepper (the seasonings help us to digest the fruit better)
Add all ingredients except fruit in a bowl, mix well.
Now add the fruit and toss lightly until well coated with the spice mixture.
Eat slowly and savor the flavours.
This is delicious with a cashew or coconut cream as well.
Don’t forget to share any photos on social media using hashtag #blissologyproject + #highpranafood
Tell someone you love why you’re grateful for them. Be totally present while you do this. Look into their eyes and speak from your heart.
Sing in the shower. Whether it’s a favourite song or your own made up tune don’t hold back and really let it out!
People are the juice of life. What I mean by that is the older and, hopefully, wiser I grow, the more I value relationships, community, caring for each other, kindness, and love that freely gives life to one another.
Along those lines, I find myself blessed to have several groups of incredible friends, one of which is a group of guys who gather together every Tuesday for Beer and Bible. In Beer and Bible the homebrewed beer is fantastic, the conversation is incredible, and the people are the best.
A few weeks ago we were talking about prayer. More specifically, we discussed the importance and power of not only “talking” in prayer, but also quieting our minds and listening. Our general consensus was that calming our minds and minimizing our thoughts is powerful stuff but also super hard and difficult to make time for. That night, hopefully in a humble and kind way, I shared a bit of my yoga journey and the mind-blowing gifts it’s given me.
When I started practicing yoga nearly seven years ago I did so to get more flexible and support my now ex-wife who had just become a teacher. I thought yoga would certainly make me more bendy and hopefully stronger and that’s pretty much it. That said, as I practiced yoga more and more, I began to realize the most marvelous medicine of yoga wasn’t external, it was internal—it was (and is) a sense of peace, calm, joy, bliss, and love within me that blows my mind.
As I shared with the Beer and Bible fellows, this blessing comes most poignantly at the end of the yoga practice, while we lie peacefully in savasana and when we sit in meditation. For me, this isn’t a nonstop experience of peace and bliss, though. Instead, some days it’s 15-30 seconds, others it’s a minute or two, and others it’s longer, yet these brief encounters with What/Who I’d personally name God fill most of the rest of my life with a bliss, peace, and love so big and amazing I struggle to find words for it, which I kind of think is the point. I think often the same thing can be said about beauty in nature. We have no words to describe when we experience scenery like I captured above, better than “Wow!”
But one thing we need to remember is that we can’t expect to go from A to Z overnight. People don’t change from eating whatever they want to being clean-eating vegans at the snap of a finger. Likewise, we can’t expect to go from practicing no meditation, contemplation, yoga, or other mindfulness practices to 15 minutes or an hour per day instantaneously. Instead, we go from zero to one mindful breath where we pause to listen to the Divine, to two mindful breaths and so on.
In these moments of mental quiet and calm I don’t think our Creator is the only being we encounter though. I believe we also meet our True Self. We discover the “I” beyond doings, possessions and statuses. Our egos and the messages of society create a false self that many of us never get beyond, but we all have a True Self. This is the “I” in the image of the Divine, the “I” filled with joy, the “I” saturated with peace, the “I” rich with love. One could say the True Self is crowned with glory as is written in the Psalms:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
Psalm 8.3-5, NRSV
Have you ever heard of the temptations of Christ? Before Jesus started healing people, spreading love, and preaching the Good News of God’s blissful reign, He went into the wilderness and was tempted by the devil. The brilliant thing I’d like to draw your attention to is these are temptations common to us all. They are the lure to identify ourselves, relate our worth, and name our love based on what we own, what we do, and/or what others say/think about us. This is the false self.
Another way to talk about this is the ego. Our ego is important—it gets us out of bed, it gets stuff done, it pushes us to be the best version of ourselves possible—but the problem comes when we let the ego drive our lives. The ego is all about what we do, what we own, and what other’s think/say about us. While there is value in these things, they do not define who you and I truly are. You, my friend, are an infinitely worthy, loved child, made in the image of and filled with Divine Light and Love and when we do mindfulness practices (like yoga, meditation, and contemplation) to quiet our thoughts and minds, we experience this truth.
As I shared with my friends at Beer and Bible, while I’ve experienced this over and over it has nothing to do with anything I do. Instead, it’s about simply being. I think it’s only when we slow down and take time to just be, that we meet our True Selves. In these moments we encounter a peace that passes understanding, a bliss that defies description, and a love that knows no bounds.
So, how does one do this? How can you and I increasingly tune into our True Selves? First, I’d say it takes time and is a process. The big question here is what’s the next right thing for you? What’s a doable step you can take today/next week/next month/next year?
We’re all uniquely wired and we all go through different seasons in life, meaning what works for me might not work for you, and what resonates with you today might not vibe with you next year. My point is, there’s a zillion mindfulness practices out there and I think they all lead to this same beautiful and amazing result.
That being said let me throw a few practical tips out there for us all. I’ll start by saying there’s something powerful about doing something everyday, or nearly everyday, for 3-4 weeks, as this period of time rewires our brains and turns practices into habits so I’d recommend trying to pick something doable that you can try out for that long. Here are a few ideas:
Yoga: While I think going to a studio will give you the biggest bang for the buck, there’s a lot of online videos you can use at home. Only 15 minutes a day will have amazing effects.
Gratitude journal: Take 5 minutes before going to bed to reflect on the day and write about three things you’re grateful for.
Meditation: Take 1-15 minutes to simply be and quiet the mind. I recommend using a podcast or app for this, but it’s free and super helpful to just breathe a mantra that speaks to where you are in life. For instance, one could inhale “I am” and exhale “loved,” or “worthy,” or “peace,” or “joyful.”
Contemplation: Take 1-15 minutes to simply be and quiet the mind by contemplating some aspect of God, nature, scripture, etc.
Meditative Walking: Step and breath in time with a mantra that speaks to where you are in life.
Contemplative Walking: Notice, but I mean really, notice the nature and people and everything else around you.
Praying the hours: Set an alarm on your phone for 9, 12, and 3. When it goes off, stop for a minute or two and take a few really deep breaths in time with a short prayer.
Hopefully this gives you some ideas to get started. I think mindfulness can be practiced anywhere and everywhere, it can be simply slowing the breath down, noticing your thoughts and remembering you have thoughts but you are not your thoughts, and taking time to really see and hear what’s going on around you. When we do this we both come into touch with our True Selves and God, and the affect is amazing on you, me, and everyone we come into contact with.
I truly think our money, our possessions, our achievements, and what other people think about us do have their place and are good in their own way but they do not define us. You and I are something infinitely more precious, imperishable, and beautiful than those passing things, and the more we come into contact with this—our True Selves—the more amazing life gets. Honestly, the people I’ve met who are in tune with their stable, secure, and real selves are calm, joyful, and loving even in the midst of adversity, conflict, and trauma. They are bright sources of light and love in the midst of darkness. They are able to be non-anxious, calming presences when everyone else is freaking out. The awesome thing is, though, we can all be like these saints! Each of our True Selves is full of Divine bliss, peace, and love, we simply have to take time to be and tune into it!
By Lang Charters Blissology 200-hr YTT 2017 He’s here to awaken, open to, and be love together! Check out Lang’s teacher profile to learn more.