People practice yoga for many reasons. One of which is to make a connection on some level, in order to gain insight or to shift external perceptions toward internal ones (observation of the inner self and mind), or to take sanctuary from the external saturation of the senses. Then there is our desire for physical perfection, which can be an obstacle on the path and one that takes us further from our goal of connection. Our body is considered a suit, something we don temporarily so we can learn how to develop our inner self. We shed it once we die.
“As a man shedding worn-out garments, takes other new ones, likewise, the embodied soul, casting off worn-out bodies, enters into others that are new.” Bhagavad Gita (II, 22)
We could see our obsession with the physical as just another way of distracting us from realising our true potential. By avoiding taking a journey into the depths of our mind, we are unable to discover what old mind patterns or influences are paralysing us from following our personal Dharma (our true or authentic path). That can often be too confronting to manage, so instead we remain on the surface obsessing about whether we are pretty, handsome, thin or flexible enough, and as a consequence, skate through life barely skimming the surface of our full potential. Our human development can become superficial and we end up “working out” when we practice a technique that is as deeply traditional as it is beneficial and philosophical.
We can also seem to “tackle” an asana as if it were an insurmountable peak to conquer in order to show our physical prowess. This very human trap is what the sages and seer’s of yesteryear warned us against. It might be interesting to ponder the following questions…
Why do we strive so hard to put our leg behind our head? Will it make us a better person? Will we be kinder and more compassionate? What is our intention behind wanting to achieve this? Why do we even practice? What does living your yoga on a daily basis mean for you? Do you take your practice off the mat and into the world?
If we lack the basic understanding of why we practice in the first place, then we have a chance of losing our awareness or intention when we do.
Âsana is comprised of several different elements in order to make it so; stability, breath, concentration and presence are all required.
“Just to sit in meditation for one or more hours a day does not a yogi make. This is as disingenuous as a daily posture routine unaccompanied by any desire for spiritual transformation”.
Georg Feuerstein (The Psychology of Yoga).
Often we are disconnected from our breath, and don’t even realise we are holding it creating muscular and physical tension within the body. Ease of pose and breath must come naturally before attempting any advanced âsana, otherwise we are likely creating tension and/or even injury. Making a connection via breath, concentration, stability and presence is where transformation begins.
Slowing down vinyasa so we have space to breathe, observe and move with awareness is paramount to understanding the breath/movement relationship, so it occurs with perfect ease and synchronicity. When we move so fast we are unaware of how we are breathing and there is no space to observe stillness and stability within the pose, we can lose our connection to the practice and end up unaware of how we have moved from one pose to the next. From space and stillness comes insight and clarity. Just imagine how our world could change when nurturing these qualities?
Improvement in asana comes with consistency of practice. There are no quick fixes, magic potions or tricks to get us there, just discipline, hard work and a lot of patience.
“The fundamental difference between Yogic exercise and ordinary physical exercises is that physical culture emphasises violent movements of the muscles, whereas Yogic exercises oppose violent muscle movements as they produce large quantities of lactic acid in the muscle fibres, thus causing fatigue. The effect of this acid and the fatigue it causes is neutralized by the alkali in the muscle fibres, as well as by the inhaling of oxygen.”
“…..Muscular development of the body does not necessarily mean a healthy body, as is commonly assumed, for health is a state when all organs function perfectly under the intelligent control of the mind. Rapid movement of the muscles causes a tremendous strain on the heart. In the yogic system, all movements are slow and gradual with proper breathing and relaxation”.
Swami Vishnudevananda- The Illustrated Book of Yoga