It’s become a cliché of sorts, this yoga craze. Celebrities claim to practice it. Recreation centers are filled with classes teaching it in various forms. Those who tend to avoid all OTHER forms of physical fitness profess to taking classes in it. Even me. And yet, many miss out on its most basic benefit—settling the mind into silence.
Charlotte Bell hasn’t missed it. She understands how hard it is to sit still, pause, take a breath, and regain our mindfulness. As a world-renowned teacher and author of two books about yoga, she knows the challenges of going and going all day, and not allowing ourselves to relax and meditate.
“I think it’s something we all need,” she says during our interview for ON AND BEYOND. “I count myself in that category. We need to give ourselves a chance to stop, even if it’s only for five minutes.”
She has just published her second book, “Yoga for Meditators.” Like her first book, the best-selling “Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life,” it extols the virtues of this centuries-old discipline originating in ancient India.
“Way back in 1988,” she writes in the book’s introduction, “in my seventh year of yoga practice, I decided to explore the silence of meditation for myself.” As she did, “the lovely sense of peace I felt after my daily yoga practice was satisfying enough.”
She says science bears out the benefits of the combination of yoga and meditation.
“Just trying to be mindful has a huge positive effect on our brains,” she says. “Mindfulness really helps the brain function better.”
In “Yoga for Meditators,” Charlotte, who is also an accomplished musician (more on that later), not only describes and teaches the various yoga poses that work for and with meditation, but offers illustrations in an easy-to-understand format for students and yoga teachers of all skill and experience levels. She points out during our interview that yoga’s growing popularity is in part related to it being a low- impact alternative to aerobics. That cuts both ways for those who practice it.
“People in pain in their joints from the pounding parts of some exercise programs turn to yoga, and we’ve remade yoga in our own image in this culture,” she says. “That has meant people are much more likely to flock to it. It’s good that people are moving their bodies, but I do think a lot of yoga’s potential is being diluted, in a way. It’s becoming about things that yoga is suppose to free us from—being twisty, bendy, worried about appearances, etc.”
Meditation, she says, allows us to get back to a basic tenant of yoga, to “pay attention to what’s going on in our bodies. Sitting poses in general are good for our backs, and this book offers suggestions to everyone to work any part of their body. Working together, meditation and yoga help us to overcome those little discomforts we sometimes feel—and we are no longer reactive to them. They allow us to stay in the moment, and that offers a huge insight into how and what we are thinking. If we don’t pay attention, we don’t really know, and life becomes all too often business as usual.”
When she’s not practicing or teaching yoga, Charlotte is also a master musician, on both the piano and oboe. “Music was definitely my first meditation,” she says. “The meditation has helped me perform better.”
She is a member of the Salt Lake Symphony Orchestra in Utah, and part of the group Red Rock Rondo, a sextet of performers featuring a lively assortment of guitar, violin, English horn, mandolin, banjo, harmonica, button accordion and upright bass. The group performs throughout the West, has released one CD and has another close to finishing (check out www.redrockrondo.com).
“Mindfulness is a great support for creativity,” Charlotte says, “which is the reason I first started practicing meditation. I realized that a lot of my thoughts were the same ones over and over again. It’s when you let go of some of those thoughts that you make room in your mind for other stuff, like creativity.”
That’s something students and listenersof Charlotte Bell’s works in yoga classes or in concert venues have come to know and appreciate. You can read more about her writings and her classes on her website at www.charlottebellyoga.com.