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The Art of Paying Attention

February 12, 2014 by Laura Wilson 

By Laura Wilson, Dublin-based Yoga Teacher, trained in Hatha Yoga, Traditional Ashtanga, Chanting, Meditating and Pranayama Awakening The Spine Topic: Scaravelli inspired yoga. Click here to learn more. It never ceases to amaze me how I continue to discover the absolute relevancy of the practice of yoga within the rest of my life. Reading Vandelli Scaravelli’s wonderful book “Awakening the spine” over New Year she draws reference and influence from mathematics, science, philosophy, nature and art drawing parallels between the world around us and our inner experience in such an unassuming, sensitive and intelligent way. In particular reading Scaravelli re-awoke my interest in the distinction between yoga asana (poses) and other physical exercises. She writes;

“Do not kill the instinct of the body of the body for the glory of the pose. Do not look at your body like a stranger, but adopt a friendly approach towards it. Watch it, listen to it, observe its needs, its requests, and even have fun …to be sensitive is to be alive.”

As an ex-contemporary dancer and having spent many years enjoying dance, physical theatre and circus performances packed with incomprehensible feats of elegance and poise I am very aware of the extraordinary things the human body can achieve and the heights in which we humans are able to push in order to twist, turn, balance and jump in the name of competition, art or creativity. I have always enjoyed and admired these visual spectacles; I have been touched and awoken as an audience member in a theatre many times. Vanda ScaravelliScaravelli makes the distinction however, between yoga asana and other physical activities. If achieving the most difficult expression of the pose was the only aim then gymnasts and dancers would surely be the best yogis of the world. They, with their ankles wrapped neatly and elegantly around their heads would be the very personification of enlightenment! The difference with yoga is that rather than focusing on the external expression, the practitioner is paying attention to the internal self and in doing so -cultivating a presence within the moment that is unique and therefore very special. The breath, (each breath always being in the present moment) is used as the anchor point to enable the practitioner to stay present and observing. Maintaining a state of heightened sensitivity and being able to pay attention to the experience of the felt senses within the pose is what yoga is looking to cultivate. By definition there for, as long as you are breathing effortlessly, and paying attention you are practicing yoga. Whether in an advanced posture such as vrschikasana balancing on your forearms, toes delicately curving towards the forehead or sitting quietly on your heels in virasana each are equally valid, each yogic in their experience. Of course exploring the limitations of your physicality can be and is, for many (including myself) a huge part of the practice. And as your practice deepens it is inevitable you want to continue to explore the depths of your ability further. Learning to place yourself in challenging poses and to be there and stay in control, to be at ease with the challenge can be very rewarding and can have fascinating implications for learning about your ability to supersede preconceived limitations and fears both on and off the mat. To be at the edge of your physical comfort zone, and to trust in your ability to stay listening and observing within that space is precious time indeed. Vanda Scaravelli settled in yoga Nidrasana, her grey hair ruffled by the cross of her ankles meeting behind her head here is, in my opinion the epitome of this example. Despite the challenge of the pose, despite the camera lens pointing her way her face remains soft, her breath easy, seemingly totally within the moment, no sense of showmanship or ego. She reminds her readers

“You have to learn to listen to your body, going with it and not against it avoiding all effort and strain…if you are kind to your body, it will respond to you in an incredible way”

And so I start 2014 with a renewed passion for challenging my dance school born, ego based attempts to conquer a pose and instead ask myself to be gentle, sensitive and listening in my approach. Wish me luck, perhaps when my hair is as beautifully silver as the wonderful Vanda’s I may have learned the lesson she teaches! Laura Wilson's Bio: photoxp-064I am the founding member of Ayatana Yoga and also of its sister business Edinburgh Community Yoga From universities to psychiatric hospitals, office spaces, to public classes, from private clients to drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres, and from football stadiums to homeless charities; each week I enjoy the opportunity to teach within an array of diverse groups within the Edinburgh Community. I have always been fascinated by the body and the secrets it holds, an interest which originally took me down the dance route culminating in my gaining a scholarship and eventually graduating in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts Honours Degree from London Contemporary Dance School. I began to make the transition from dance to yoga in 2005 and since then have explored Iyengar, Ashtanga and Hatha yoga practices regularly. I trained as a yoga teacher for Children and Families in 2011 and alongside my friend and colleague Jane Hartley I gained my Yoga Alliance UK affiliated 200-hours teacher training certificate in India in February 2012 where we qualified to teach Hatha Yoga, Traditional Ashtanga, Chanting, Meditating and Pranayama. I have recently begun to widen my practice further exploring the practices of kundalini and yin yoga as well as yoga nidra. I discovered transcendental meditation in 2009 and mindful meditation in 2012 both of which inform my daily meditation practice. My focus as a teacher is on supporting individuals to find their own practice in a safe and encouraging environment. My classes are alignment focused, but with a love of ashtanga vinyasa yoga and a dance background they inevitably also help to develop a sense of flow and movement. I use the breath (pranayama) and meditation work to develop connection between body and mind. Whilst developing strength and flexibility my classes encourage deep relaxation and centring. I love the versatility of yoga and meditation and never cease to be amazed by the lessons I continue to learn through my practice on and off the mat.

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