Cat Easterbrook

Remind me why I practise yoga?!

yoga on the beach in goa

Yoga in Goa

People practise yoga for their own reasons and there are many. At the start of a yoga course or retreat, the teacher normally asks you what your reasons are – what you hope to gain, what would make a difference to you in your life.

For some people the aim is ‘the truth’, ‘enlightenment’, for some people the aim is ‘a nice butt’. For most the motivation is a mix of reasons somewhere between those two extremes and the reasons are ever-changing, ever-growing. But in a whole world of yoga, it can be easy to lose yourself to what other people are selling, rather than staying true to what you want out of your practice.

Yoga for me has never been about sculpting my body (although of course I would graciously accept a butt lift as a side effect of my practice, let’s not be churlish here) but at times I have lost focus as to what yoga really means to me and why I am doing it at all.

I’m writing this from Goa, India, at the end of 4-month journey that was primarily about yoga. I’ve practised with some inspiring teachers who have given me so much guidance, knowledge and motivation – the challenge now is to convert all that into becoming my own best teacher before I go on to teach others.

The past few weeks in Goa have been about self-practice, relearning the skill of motivating myself when there is no teacher there to help, when there is no commitment to a class or a course to help get me out of bed. Most mornings it’s relatively easy – of course in Goa it’s not exactly hard with the ocean and warm air. But I know that soon I’ll be trying to get out of a warm bed in a cold country. Not so easy.

Regardless of where I am, on mornings when I’m tired or feeling emotional it’s not so easy. My morning brain is a completely different brain to my afternoon brain. It is mainly concerned with not getting out of bed. It doesn’t believe in enthusiasm. It is a clever and convincing child that will pull out all the stops to get what it wants.

This morning was a fairly dramatic example of morning brain. After a bad night’s sleep and multiple requests from higher self to sleepy self to get out of bed and onto the mat, the petulant childlike response of ‘I don’t even like yoga anyway!’ was thrown out there.

I’m sorry? Excuse me? Now you’re just being ridiculous.

Sometimes the old maxim ‘don’t believe everything you think’ is easy to recognise. Cover blown (literally), I was out of bed and onto the mat.

Occasionally feeling negative about a practice that gives me so much is part of my practice. The negativity doesn’t always end the second you jump onto the mat and today it definitely didn’t, but through observing it, noticing what is going on in your body and mind, you are no longer at the mercy of your emotions and the parade of thoughts that are passing though your mind.

Of course every practice is different, every day your body is different, your mind is different. This is part of the practice – accepting the ever changing nature of life.

It can be hard to accept though, especially if you’re experiencing ill health and your body isn’t working as well as it used to. Or, if you have been practising long and hard and you don’t feel that you’re getting anywhere. And this morning, I felt like I’d been practising long and hard and not getting anywhere.

I was bumbling through my practice, tight, constricted, noticing everything that hadn’t improved. Where was the victorious flow, where were the wonderfully open hips, where was the ‘right’ pose?

More than this, I realised that I was focusing on the external appearances. I was more concerned about looking the part. Having gained a teaching certification I was even more prone to falling into this trap, this idea that yoga teachers have to look a certain way. Before you know it you are chasing the external rather than working from the inside and it all becomes nothing more than a nice façade (or butt).

My negativity was a red flag. I brought the practice back to what it meant to me.

As I pulled my focus in and moved into downward dog I breathed deeply, feeling the stability of my hands and feet pushing into the ground and the lift through my arms and legs, feeling the interplay between ease and effort, bringing my spine straight, feeling the energy flowing, feeling strong and light….. I stayed for a while, my mind slowing, easing and opening as I dropped expectations and experienced what was there.

Of course my mind kept chipping in with reminders of what was wrong, what wasn’t as good as yesterday, but as I breathed and let it go, the practice unlocked more reason why I practice – big, small, anatomical, energetic, superficial, deep, all doing their bit to shift me into a more helpful frame of mind and a genuine experience of yoga.

Once I finished I felt inspired to write some of them down, to help me through the depths of an English winter, when morning brain tries to claim it ‘doesn’t like yoga’. Ha.

If you practise yoga, and perhaps also suffer from the dreaded morning brain, or occasional ‘why am-I-doing-this-thing-again?’ moment, I hope it provides some inspiration. Feel free to add your reasons in the comments below.

Some of reasons I practise…

  1. not believing everything I think
  2. finding ease and lightness even whilst making effort
  3. straight spine, creating space, breath flowing freely, body humming with life
  4. opening the chest, leading with the heart, instead of being protective and defensive
  5. leaning into discomfort, being able to handle strong sensations without running or repressing
  6. bringing the mind to focus, clear and steady, instead of firing in a million directions
  7. making the mind more subtle, more perceptive, moving it towards deeper meditation, more creativity, clearer intuition
  8. physical strength
  9. working with opposing forces and energies, feeling both grounded and light
  10. mental strength
  11. self awareness
  12. joy in flow
  13. discipline, motivation, will
  14. flexible mind, open to the possibilities
  15. flexible body, expanding the possibilities
  16. preventative, holistic health
  17. self-prescribing – forward bends for soothing, back bends for energy
  18. bringing myself into balance, balancing physical tendencies, balancing energy, and quite literally, balancing
  19. noticing how the body influences the mind, the mind influences the body and the power this gives me
  20. body awareness and confidence, feeling light and free in my body and able to live more fully

On reflection, it’s probably worth getting out of bed for.

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