self practice: pratyahara

Yesterday evening I had the honour of leading a workshop on self practice. I say honour because for me teaching yoga is and always has been just that. I say honour because it IS an honour and a blessing and is in a sense out of my hands ; the source of my teaching being divine inspiration.

During the workshop we talked about the various stages of practice and also the art of sequencing, linking one pose to the next, the order and so forth. For me this sequencing has always come about from experience, careful planning but primarily ; inspiration. 

I was inspired to talk about the 8 branches of yoga, the sequential map of the yoga path. Each branch leads onto the next and yet being attached to the same tree means they are as important as each other. 

The 8 branches of yoga (astanga) are a beautiful map of the journey we are taking. Once we establish ourselves as generally good people, behaving well to ourselves and to others (yama, niyama) we progress steadily in our asana practice, creating a stable foundation for our wellbeing. The stillness that emanates from this stability allows us to develop our pranayama also, the energy levels are equalised through these subtle but deeply powerful breathing practices. 

When it comes to self practice I want to draw attention to 'pratyahara' ,the fifth branch of yoga, often translated as withdrawal of the senses, but which I prefer to think of as a retraction and a turning inwards. In our self practice we have the opportunity to turn the senses in on ourselves and develop this inward listening, this inward seeing and this inward sensing. 

We taste the flavour of our mood, we feel the texture of our breath, the subtle pulsations of the various organs and their correlates. Pratyahara is the gift of self practice. Unlike in yoga class where our pace is not our own in self practice we can truly go where our body asks us to go.

This in no way means that you don't need to go to class anymore in fact rather the contrary. By developing this inner sensing you will get so much more from your classes, you will respond and adjust quicker, the senses are sharpened in this infinite inner space. 

May swift bliss be with you