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Happy International Yoga Day (as of 21st June!)

To me yoga is magic! Magic? I hear you say, what’s magic?

Yeah, think about it, what does that word mean to you today as you know it? And how would you use it in a sentence?

Maybe if someone does a cool trick, or perhaps they retrieved a file off your computer that you thought was long gone, or maybe they managed to get a reservation at that cool new restaurant that literally no one can get into – that’s magic.

Perhaps it’s the moment your baby first smiles back at you, it’s the loving partner who when things are really rubbish is there for you with a bunch of flowers, or even better, a bottle of gin(!)… or maybe it’s the friendly smile of a stranger on a bus or a train who just sees your face and ‘gets it’ – is that magic?

The answer is yes.

And for anyone thinking about the other stuff – wizards, witches, warlocks, goblins and elves and all that – that’s magic too, it’s all real and one day my letter from Hogwarts will finally arrive… But until that day, and in fact beyond that day when it does actually happen [insert number here] years late, I have my own magic – and that my friends is the magic of yoga!

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But what is yoga? Stretching, improving flexibility, strength, sticking your tongue out making funny noises while you breathe and chanting the word OM? I mean yes, a bit, but there is SO MUCH more to yoga than what you see on the surface – let me explain.

There are in fact eight parts or ‘limbs’ of yoga – with the asana (physical practice) being just one of them.

ONE?! you might say? That’s one hour a week spent on just the ONE bit of yoga? No, not entirely – because through every class we touch on all of the eight limbs:

  1. The Yamas:
    • Moral discipline (of which there are five – Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non stealing), Brahmacharya (right use of energy), and Aparigraha (non greed or non hoarding)) – these are the five ways we can treat others, which in turn affects how we treat ourselves – and usually reflected in class themes or through the teacher’s language.
  2. The Niyamas
    • Our observances (again, five of these – Saucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (discipline or burning desire or conversely, burning of desire), Svadhyaya (self-study or self-reflection, and study of spiritual texts), and Isvarapranidaha (surrender to a higher power)) – these are the five ways we are advised treat ourselves which in turn affects how we treat others – likewise, in class themes and the language of the class.
  3. Asana
    • The physical practice of yoga – the postures (my favourite bit!)
  4. Pranyama
    • Breathing practice – difficult for some but so worth it when you get into it.
  5. Pratyhara
    • Sense withdrawal – something we can often do with the breathing practice at the start of class – to let go of the outside world and bring our attention inward on our mind and our body to truly focus on our practice, or in a posture or when settling into meditation.
  6. Dharana
    • Focused concentration – in each and every posture (especially balances), breathing exercise or meditation we practice this – and it really helps with your concentration span when you go back into the outside world!
  7. Dhyana
    • Meditation – that lovely bit at the end? Yep that’s it, lying back in savasana having some yoga nidra, but you can get meditation from the postures too, the breathing practice, reading, writing, painting, going for a walk – essentially yoga is everywhere…
  8. Samadhi
    • Bliss or enlightenment – I am sure you all leave class feeling this way (ok, slight sarcasm there) but maybe some days, or perhaps in some moments you feel ‘just right’ like it all fits together and you know what? That’s a pretty cool feeling to have.

So to me, yoga is magic – magic because what I have learned on the mat I can take off the mat and apply it to my every day life.

It teaches me to be more patient, kind, it relaxes me which in turn makes me more productive, I’m able to understand more, to listen, observe and witness. Not all the time, but some of it. And the times when I don’t? I’m ok with the fact that I am only human – as are we all – we can’t all walk around seven days a week 24 hours a day in a state of bliss, that’s just not normal.

Plus don’t we need some chaos to make the good times better? If life was all good, it would get boring pretty fast I think. And where would the sweet and sour be? The up and down? The past and the future? The experience and the learning? The practice and the failing, the practice and the doing, the practice and the practice – and knowing it’s ok to just practice!

All we can do is practice to make what little bit of world we live in a happier place for us to exist – and for me, personally, I find yoga helps.

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