What brings me back to my mat? with Dylan Simon Alexander
by Dylan Simon Alexander
To celebrate our Drop Back to Yoga School offer, we asked our teachers to share what brings them back on the mat. We hope you enjoy learning what inspires our Delight Family to return to their practice and what yoga means to them.
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”
- The Bhagavad Gita
This quote sums it up for me. It is a personal journey for each of us and the practice itself changes and evolves over time – It has been an important journey over time for me to:
a) explore and understand what it is that is drawing me to the mat and
b) how my connection and intention have also shifted and shaped over time.
Realising that there is no final posture to aim and achieve for, no perfection to be pursued but rather a deeper connection and sense of awareness of myself as I journey to the deeper layers of myself over time. This requires sustained practice, a sense of curiosity and wonder, discipline to maintain over a long period of time, and raw authentic honesty to look at what it is within myself, whether physical or mental that is alive within me in these moments when I practice.
The physical part of the practice is the easy part
On one hand, yoga has given me a physical tool to increase mobility and flexibility whilst improving sleep, anxiety, and sharpness of mind. Even my confidence of speech in front of large audiences has improved, which was always difficult for me. I always had anxiety and nervousness before speaking in front of large groups of people.
On the other hand, it is the subtle aspects of practice that have continually brought me back to the mat - that which we carry off of the mat and into our daily lives. The physical part of the practice is the easy part. If you can breathe, you can practice yoga- it is for anyone, and each practice can be tailored for each individual.
The biggest misconception we have about yoga is usually that we have to be flexible. However, this is a natural by-product of the practice. Trust me - I was not flexible at all when I started! Taking the practice into our daily lives can oftentimes be the most potent but also difficult part - or let’s say “the actual practice of yoga asana on the playground (mat) is where we learn/sharpen and strengthen our container” and off the mat is where the true yoga happens, i.e. the integration into our daily lives and in relation with the world.
Letting go of the pursuit of perfection
Given that we live in an achievement-orientated society, it is often that we initially come to the mat with a sense of achievement, progress, competition, and perfection. There is nothing wrong with that, as we need goals to move forward, otherwise we would be a rocking horse - having motion but no progress. However, sometimes we can get stuck in this pursuit of perfection and achievement and miss the actual gems that the practice can offer.
Astanga yoga has provided a great foundation upon which to build my strength and flexibility in equal measures. On a physical level, it has brought me more body awareness, space, and relaxation to those areas where I felt contracted or otherwise stuck. On a mental level, it gave me the foundation to be able to reflect on where my mind is (past or present) and coming back continually to the breath (present moment). It also gives me the ability to sharpen my senses, soften the ego, and practice with awareness, compassion, and kindness so that I can take these attributes and qualities of presence off of the mat and into my day-to-day life. A knowledge of integrating these aspects which I am cultivating in my practice. Sometimes that means taking a step back to lean in, to recognize when the mind is racing 1000 miles an hour whilst the body is trying to catch up and the poor nervous system is trapped in between.
The continual return home
The practice in and of itself is simple, the continual return to home so to speak. Or we can say it is a return to the breath, so we are fully embodied and fully integrated – mind, body, and nervous system moving as one unit through the practice in a state of presence, so it becomes a meditation in movement. Or as Kristin Vikjord beautifully puts it, "so it becomes a poetry in movement."
The cultivation of this as a foundation is a powerful tool for me, as way too often - as we move about our daily lives - we forget to be fully present? We get lost in the mad rush of the copious number of things we have to do on our agendas and miss the mark of being fully here, right now, present with our partners, family, friends, environment etc… It’s so easy for emotions and reactions to control our impulses in dialogue with the stimulus in the environment.
So the practice on one level becomes a gift of presence to myself so I can live, breathe, and feel fully optimal and integrated with my choices and decisions I make. I connect to the sense of myself in this one relation to the universe or my environment, and everything I interact within it.
I guess, this is what keeps me curiously adventuring back to my mat over and over again. Each time I step on the mat, it is a new day and a new version of myself, so there is always space for curiosity and wonder to see what is alive right now and what is needed in these moments. Sometimes you will feel exhilarated and flying, some other days stiffer and heavier. All is good as it cannot be anything other than what it is and with that, we come back to the breath and move with awareness, poetry in movement rather than stimulating the achievement orientated mindset of trying to be other than where you are.
Recognize the nature of the mind
As I briefly mentioned above; given our environment and the way we interact in our over-consumptive model, it’s important to recognise the nature of the mind and our habitual tendencies as we move through the practice, to practice non-judgment and compassion as often as we are unkind to ourselves when certain thoughts arise (it's not possible, I can't do this, why am I not capable, etc…) – our internal chatter or dialogue - and give ourselves extra kindness, care, and attention. The cultivation of these habits creates space in mind and body over time and through the journey of yoga, we start to create space for new seeds to be planted and nurtured over time. A new dialogue.
Boundless (Satya) by Dylan Simon Alexander
from his second book, War In The Name of Beauty
Since I found myself in the reflection of life's greatest adventures
I'm vanquished of misery
Neither tied to any vow
Nor shadowed by any boundaries that once set foot on this throne like a sun falling towards the pilgrimage to the East
This heart of mine has taken flight and peers above the highest mountain on Earth
It ventures across the vast kingdom that the rays of the sun falls upon
As it rises from the horizon of the Western ghats
Only living in this moment I fear nothing
There is only desire to soar high above the valley of the Kings and Queens
Where the cycle of birth and death is a timeless spirit
I once again have desire to live unmasked
In this moment I have died and flourished a thousand times
I have surrendered my body and mind to the ways of the warrior
A path less travelled shadowed by doubt of the frivolous minds
I have pledged my heart to the discerning sword
A weapon striking fear in the pounding veins of the blind where permanence has consumed him gravely
Breaking through the chains of ignorance, fear, karma and emotions that my spirit once was enslaved unto
I bow down to the Love that has set this soul on fire between the fine lines of fate and destiny
There is nothing I have achieved that is not already been written by the almighty hand
There is a higher wisdom at play that the gaze of this eye cannot capture
Or can any treasures buried deep beneath the mine of rubies match in unparalleled power
This intoxication is like a wild storm
With the power to conquer any demon
Destroying everything built on its path
Before the world was darker than I could ever understand
I do not recognise this place anymore
After coming out of the darkness
There is only the scent of the forest I see
It has the Midas touch that quiets me
Like the golden petals of a wild flower in bloom
Facing North towards the sun
A heart as courageous as lions that cannot be tamed
Boundless is this heart beyond the vanquished temples
Like the skies which has no shadow of doubt or colour of illusion
You can find Dylan teaching Astanga Led & Astanga Mysore at our studios on the Weteringschans and Nieuwe Achtergracht.
You can purchase his two books, Art of the Storm and War in the Name of Beauty here.
Life Journey Since a young age, Dylan has always been fascinated with life’s great questions; his own life journey has given him an unusual eye for the beauty and interconnectedness of life and made him sensitive to the human condition.