Is your yoga practice fun or forced? Find out
Has your quest for a healthy, spiritual lifestyle become too serious? Are you trying too hard for self-improvement at the expense of your relationships and sense of humour? A playful yogic approach to your spiritual journey brings the fun back into your life, moving you out of heaviness or rigid thinking, enabling healthy choices, laughter, lightness in spirit, love and compassion: the essence of sattvic (pure) yogic living.
When you’re having fun you are free of judgement, worry and insecurity. You feel exhilarated, connected and energised. You can’t demand it: fun simply arises. Without fun, life is dull and lacking in lustre. When you’re having fun you are fully present, engaged in the joy of the moment. In this state, you effortlessly arrive at dharana (one-pointed concentration), the sixth limb of yoga.
So how is your health regime and spirituality? Is the devotion joyful, the curiosity vibrant and each thought and act a loving, peaceful one? Is it fun or is it forced?
Leela: divine play
The Sanskrit word leela or lila means “divine play”. You can purify your diet and lifestyle with right intentions, becoming a playful expression of a higher, mystical nature. With a fun approach, you can enjoy your practice (abhyasa), surrender (isvara pranidhana) more easily, let go of the outcomes and willingly detach from your efforts (vairagya). These are paths for moksha (liberation), as outlined by the great saint Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras thousands of years ago.
When things get too serious or intense, you are most likely ensnared by maya: the illusion of what is real. By refocusing on inner joy with devotion to your heart space, leela uplifts. Be grateful for health creation and aim to flow with life circumstances. Drop into meditation as a profoundly light, serene experience of fun. Aim to renounce the goals themselves. As David Frawley explains in Vedantic Meditation, be “open to what is intrinsically yours rather than trying to make something belong to you”.
Contemplate needless expended energy and then redirect it to nourish and contribute to conscious expansion. When you’re free of restrictions, you are enlivened and can openly embrace fun-filled practice. Healthy food preparation becomes sensual when approached playfully. Improvise with ingredients, bless the food and notice the effects on your system.
The sheaths & adventures in asana
Just as a healthy diet is filled with variety, so is a yoga program that offers different asanas (postures) and techniques to ensure that each of the five koshas (the sheaths over the self), are thoroughly cleansed. Kinaesthetically contemplate the koshas, allowing for radiance on the discovery toward self-realisation. From the outer to the inner sheath, the koshas are:
- Annamaya kosha: casing made of food — the physical body
- Pranamaya kosha: psychosomatic energy sheath
- Manomaya kosha: casing made of mind
- Vijnanamaya kosha: casing made of awareness
- Anandamaya kosha: casing made of bliss
To create variety in your yoga routine, change the environment in which you practice; for example, try doing poses in the water, on the sand, on the grass or even on a moving pontoon. Practising inversions outside will challenge your proprioception. Safely learn poses that are new and different to your usual routine. Adorn yourself with colours that uplift you, provided they don’t distract from your inner odyssey. Express reverence while exploring your body. Roll and play in floor poses, flow in and out, up and down and to the sides in standing poses, gently open the body in backbends and relax inwardly when folding forward. Colour in mandalas (sacred circles) as a creative, meditative practice. Practice tratak (candle gazing) to liberate the mind.
Healthy food preparation becomes sensual when approached playfully. Improvise with ingredients, bless the food and notice the effects on your system.
Conscious relationships are the great litmus test for higher living. If you’re in a relationship and your efforts for self-improvement are not embraced by your partner, they may perceive that you’re overloading yourself and struggling and want you to relax. In this case, slow down the energetic detoxification process down for the health of your relationship.
Consider also aspects of the relationship that may need addressing. Be honest with your true motivations for self-improvement and aim for self-acceptance on the path for better health. By purifying and cleansing your mind as well as your body from negativity, you move towards peace. Aim for conscious forgiveness, conscious awareness and ahimsa (non-harm).
If you’re detoxing negative emotions, refrain from expressing them to your lover. Extending the exhalation in pranayama (breathing practice) will support the prana (life force) and ease the intensity of the karmic release of toxins. If your partner can witness in you a healthier mindset along with your improved physical health, they may join your newfound path of freedom.
The Ayurveda of fun
A fiery intensity or overt seriousness is a pitta (fire) imbalance; relaxed play is the solution. Playful partner yoga can help you discover your playful self. The cooling inversion sarvangasana (shoulder stand) will help cool the heat of your health goals and balance your aims.
If your quest for self-improvement has a heavy inertia, kapha (water) is likely out of balance. Strong vinyasa sequences with devotional music will help uplift you. Vata (air) needs grounding if you have become scattered, spaced out or exhausted. Slow sequences with grounding poses help move creative energy for peace. Aim to enjoy health improvements, whatever your Ayurvedic constitution, as well as the svadhyaya (self-study) involved.
Invert your perspective
Going upside-down can detoxify your mental state and bring exhilaration to your body and mind, provided the inversions are not overheating. The intensity of pitta requires easing off handstands and headstands as they overheat the system. Pitta likes a challenge, so take a more playful attitude to arm balances without over-doing them. Sarvangasana, its variations and halasana (plough pose) assist in changing your outlook — they turn your perspective upside down. The cooling effects are soothing.
Be light, going deeply within, opening to the charge of blissful energy during meditation. Focus on sensations, then on a single awareness like the breath or the primordial sound of aum (om). If practising outdoors, commune with nature and adore her; become one with the surrounding beauty, taking it inside your heart. Bring the harmony of the bird’s song, the flowing water or the sun’s caress into yourself; feel the same qualities arise from within. Absorb the state of oneness in your cells. Relax and become physically attuned to bliss, mentally and emotionally accepting it.
With a fun approach, you can enjoy your practice (abhyasa), surrender (isvara pranidhana) more easily, let go of the outcomes and willingly detach from your efforts (vairagya).
The play of the divine is about evolving consciousness towards Sat-Chit-Ananda (Truth-Consciousness-Bliss). Unite with the lunar energies of evening that beckon if you listen, if you quieten the rajasic (passionate) desires and allow yourself to simply be. A life filled with spirit is richer, deeper than surface desires, accessing realms of Beauty and joy from within.
Sri Ramana Maharshi taught that it is not karma that binds but the desire for its results. David Frawley explains, “Desireless action is the foundation of the spiritual path and all of its methods, which should be free from selfish motivation.” Move your intentions to selfless ones, aiming to evolve for service to all. If your mind is unable to focus on peace, perform karma yoga (yoga of service) in your community.
Lighten your efforts for health and spirituality. Evolve through the subtle, delicate pulse of nature that aligns, invites and liberates your being for love.
Om prema (Love).
A fun yoga sequence
Practise outside in the sunshine where possible. Release any serious expectations and, if you fall out of poses, shift your intentions to play. Intend joy and a sense of fun.
Philosopher’s pose (veerasana)
This relaxing pose helps cultivate awareness of the unconscious realms, calming ruminating thoughts. Kneeling, sit on heels. Place right foot on floor beside left knee, right elbow resting on right knee. Cup chin in palm. Place left hand on left knee. Lift spine, work right hip down, abdomen back, shoulders down, keep hips centred. Close eyes. Relax, steadying the breath, bringing your inner gaze to the eyebrow centre. Remain here for two minutes. Repeat on other side. Next, warm up with a series of surya namaskar, salutations to the sun.
Warrior preparation into parsvottanasana vinyasa
Standing, step right leg one leg-length back on mat. Turn right foot 60 degrees to left. Inhale, raise arms above head, palms of hands facing each other, draw shoulders down. Square hips to centre. Moving slowly on exhale, pull abdomen back towards spine, pivot from hips to come forward with straight, energised legs, placing hands on floor. On inhale, with straight spine and energised legs, slowly rise back up to starting position. Move with the breath, repeat four more times. Change for other side. Bring a lightened endurance and fun to the sequence.
Message of Shiva
Standing with straightened right leg, wrap left foot around right ankle, square hips to centre. Bend right elbow, open palm at shoulder height and express fearlessness. Bring left upper arm close to torso, open palm at hip height, and express mercy. Breathe, draw shoulders down, abdomen back toward spine. Feel the expansive energy of this simple yet powerful pose. Breathe in divine support from the cosmos and compassion toward all. After a few minutes, repeat on other side.
Half handstand (ardha adho mukha vrksasana)
Sit on all fours, heels touching wall. Walk feet up wall, hips perpendicular to feet. Straighten legs. Line shoulders up with wrists. If not in line, come out of pose, move hands closer to wall then resume position. Breathe. Embrace courageousness, and continue into handstand.
Handstand (adho mukha vrksasana)
Face the wall. Place hands on floor, close to wall, shoulder width apart. In a sprinter’s position, bend right knee and move left foot back slightly, removing weight from left foot. Spring up, kicking left leg to touch toes to wall, closely followed by right foot. Straighten both legs, lifting shoulders away from floor. Free balance feet away from wall if possible, coming back to wall for support when needed. Allow yourself to play, reattempting the free balance with a spirit of adventure.
Note: If you have high blood pressure or a heart condition, hold adho mukha svanasana, downward-facing dog pose, instead. Do not go upside down if you are pregnant or menstruating.
Wild thing (camatkarasana)
Begin in downward-facing dog: hands and feet on floor, buttocks raised to sky. Shift weight onto left hand and leg, raising right arm and leg off floor, rotating toward sky into side plank position. Lifting hips, reverse or “flip the dog” over, allowing right hand to float over the head towards the ground, bending right leg. Sweep shoulder blades into back of ribs. Feel the sense of elation this heart-opening posture brings. Change for other side.
Sitting cross-legged, place left hand on right knee. Inhale, lift spine, exhale, with outstretched right arm, pivot from hips, twist to right. Breathe. On inhalations, lift spine, after each exhale, twist further, looking beyond hand. Change cross of your legs as you repeat on other side. Affirm joy encircling you from within.
Shoulder-stand sequence (salambha sarvangasana)
Carefully stack two half-folded blankets on mat. Lie down with shoulders on blankets, head and neck on floor. Bend knees, curl pelvis then back torso away from floor. Raise pelvis over shoulders so torso is perpendicular to floor as you bring hands up your back for support, elbows in line with shoulders. Straighten legs, soften gaze. Remain in pose for a few minutes.
Keeping back straight, bend knees to bring soles of feet to touch, opening knees out to sides. Breathe and hold position.
Next, straighten legs once more, lifting pelvis to straighten back. Inhale. On exhale, square hips, slowly moving straight right leg so right toes to touch ground over head. Stay for a few moments, then come back to centre and realign. Change legs, then resume sarvangasana.
Holding your back, on exhale, bend from hips and slowly lower both legs overhead into halasana, plough pose, toes on floor. Torso is perpendicular to floor, legs straight, backs of knees soft. Lift thighs and tailbone up, relax throat.
Note: Do not perform shoulder-stand sequence if you are pregnant, menstruating or have high blood pressure.
Finish by lying in savasana, resting on floor, allowing the body and mind to refresh. Affirm intentions for divine light and natural expressions of leela. Feel for the bliss; have fun.
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