Yoga has a wonderful tendency to reach out into every part of our lives. Some come to the mat searching for balance and flexibility, and find that they leave feeling spiritually fulfilled. Some come for the peace of mind that yoga creates, and find that their bodies become strong and capable in the process.
We recently spoke with recent Art of Living Retreat Center guest instructor Tucker Shelton about the far-reaching effects that yoga can have on our lives – the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits that often seem to seek us out and find us, rather than the other way around.
Going Beyond the Physical
I attended my first yoga class in college. I didn’t have a physical practice or fitness routine at the time, and yoga seemed interesting. But in that first class, I got so much more than what I bargained for. I experienced such a feeling of coming home. It was a moment of peeling back the veil, and discovering that there was more waiting for my life. I had a feeling of excitement, exuberance, release, and passion pouring out of me, all at once. It felt so healing and nourishing – and after that class, I’ve never looked back.
Many students approach yoga because they’re interested in fitness and flexibility, but then, something deeper begins to happen. Asana, the physical part of yoga, is actually only one of eight limbs of the practice. I had a teacher once who said that Asana is the gateway drug to yoga, that the physical practice opens your body, and then, because the body and spirit are so intertwined, you start to embody the other aspects of yoga as well. The way you eat, the way you interact with other people, your perspective on life; all of these tend to change when you begin to explore yoga in its fullness. Physical movement is only a small part of the big picture.
A Whole-System Practice
After one of my heart chakra classes, one of the participants came up to me and said “During that practice, and under your guidance, I had a moment of realization. I suddenly knew, in that moment, that it was time to open my heart again to loved ones that I haven’t spoken to in 20 years.” And after that class, she immediately went and contacted her sister and father, and started to take measures to repair those relationships. We tend to think of yoga as a physical practice, but the physical element transforms our emotional and intellectual states as well. It’s a whole-system practice. When you open up your body, the spirit tends to follow.
We tend to think of yoga as a physical practice, but the physical element transforms our emotional and intellectual states as well. It’s a whole-system practice. When you open up your body, the spirit tends to follow.
There are so many different ways of approaching yoga. I’ve seen people go to one yoga class and decide that it isn’t for them, that all yoga classes are the same. But yoga is such a broad practice, and every teacher, every class is different. It’s important to explore different classes to find what works best for you, and to not get stuck in one way of practicing, either.
In the courses that I teach, I really like to bring a sense of playfulness to the room. We tend to get very serious about practice, don’t we? So I have an interest in spicing things up and bringing some fun and humor, while also exploring the depths of yoga. I focus on spinning the whole wheel of yoga, and trying to access the fullness that’s waiting for us.
My goal in teaching is to assist other people’s experiences. To be there as somebody who helps participants find the space for their own transformation. I’m not trying to reach in and twist something and turn it and shift their life – I’m just trying to provide a palette from which they can start to paint their own work, whatever that might be.
Sanskrit: The Divine Vibration
I find it a very rewarding meditative practice to incorporate Sanskrit into my yoga. For me, Sanskrit is yet another form of yoga – each of the sounds in the Sanskrit alphabet is considered sacred, a divine vibration that, when you combine them to form a word, is the energetic signature of that object.
Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years, so when you speak the Sanskrit word for a pose or an action, you are stepping into that legacy, embodying that seat. It’s not just speaking a word, it’s speaking what that word represents into existence. You quite literally feel the vibration through your system, and those words resonate with your chakras and your energy body.
Inside of the heart is a city, and inside of the city is a temple, and inside of the temple is a lotus, and inside of this lotus is the space, and inside of the space is everything that has ever existed, and that will ever exist.
Interconnection and the Space Inside the Lotus
My favourite thing to share with students is a passage from the eighth chapter of the Chandogya Upanishad.
This text focuses on the heart center. Inside of the heart is a city, and inside of the city is a temple, and inside of the temple is a lotus, and inside of this lotus is the space, and inside of the space is everything that has ever existed, and that will ever exist. All the elements, all the stars, all the planets – past, present, future. And this space is inside of every single being, every single thing that exists.
This passage presents such a rich idea of interconnection, and when we bow to each other and honor each other in our yoga practice, we are bowing to that space inside of each of us where we meet, where we realize that we are truly one.
Why the Art of Living Retreat Center?
When I came to see the Art of Living Retreat Center for the first time, it was just so overwhelming and beautiful. We were here at such a perfect time of year, when the leaves are falling and changing colors. The beautiful sunrise that you get to see every morning coming up, the beautiful architecture of the center – and the energy of the space itself – has such a nourishing and uplifting feeling. We just loved every second of being here. And the food was incredible.