In this day and age of "doing" to get things done and feeling accomplished in life, it's rare to find students who can effectively slow down and enjoy the journey. Americans and the 21st Century culture have been groomed to be a democracy of entrepreneurs and go-getters, which is wonderful for careers and sports. Yoga on the other hand has been time-tested over thousands of years and it seems this current wave of yogis are quickly morphing the practice into EXERCISE. Let's heat the room, move fast and vigorous, break a sweat and strain for 85minutes. During the last minutes in savasana our minds struggle to actually relax but we try it anyway because everyone else is doing it. Or if you have successfully exhausted yourself enough with the overdoing and pushing then you'll just collapse into a semi-sleep. At this point I may sound cynical. Yet I know that there is another way, the traditional way.
Yoga was traditionally passed down to the individual, tailoring the practice according to individual needs and history. This is why it's very difficult, even for a veteran yoga teacher to skillfully play with the sequencing, suggest variations while reminding folks to breathe and pay attention to the mind and language of the body. This is why it is essential to pay attention to your internal signs and symptoms and honor exactly where you are today and what you would like or need to receive. When we listen to the body to tell us what it wants and needs, what is it that we are listening for? What is the language of the body? Unfortunately, 98% of the folks I ask in class do respond that pain is what they experience and feel as their language. Pain is a sensation, granted, yet there are many flavors and levels of sensation, pain being the brightest and strongest and most dangerous. What we should be practicing is finding the first level of sensation or soft "edge". I begin by moving into a pose, searching for the sensational edge that feels good and certainly has some intensity. This intensity level should not throw my body/mind into a defensive place, which pain will instigate immediately. If the body moves into defense, there is holding, tightening and struggle or fight. What is the body defending itself against? You, the pain creator; at times become your own worst enemy. Is this what we are searching for in our practice, the fight? Why do we fight and why is that ok? We can alternately look for the soft edge and breathe into that sensation, allowing it to release the edge, open the body and move prana. At that point I may want to deepen the pose by taking my mind into the prana flow or organic movement that arises from that place, and change the posturing, finding a new edge to witness and cultivate. This then, becomes a sensual practice or the search for sensation that feels appropriate for us, the individual practitioner in a group of other individual practitioners.
A question we all can ask from time to time is "What is the relationship I have with this pose or my practice today?" Most of us know what we like or dislike about relationships and I would have to say I don't like to be pushed or feel a lot of pain. Yet we may be accustomed to this in the fitness realm. We know the old cliché, "no pain, no gain". Let's not bring this with us into the relationship of our daily yoga sadhana (practice). This requires that we slow down, yes, slow down the pace of life. If we can finally slow down and give ourselves permission to "do" less and "be" more, our yoga practice may deepen and become completely satisfying and new. This slowing down may be one of the "edges" to explore deeper. Why do I feel edgy, uncomfortable or antsy when I slow down or hold a pose for any length of time? The only satisfaction most of us get is that we become toned, lose some water weight and can say that we "do" yoga. If pushing and straining to get your leg behind your head is what you have been doing, you may be loosing the point of yoga. Is this really doing yoga? What are yoga asana practices really for? Patanjali's yoga sutras refer to mastering the pose when you attain a balance between stability and effortlessness. Interesting word, "effortlessness". We must not perform poses and strain to get somewhere for where are we trying to get to outside of our own internal, deep connection? In Utanasana for example, standing forward fold, if your head can touch the space between your shins, what does that mean to you, and what have you truly accomplished? The pose is not about the shape, but the practitioner inside the pose. We should be looking for the open window in our practice, letting in the fresh air and light. How does it feel from the inside out? Search for the inner landscape of each sculpture in asana. Asana is but one limb of the 8-limbed path of yoga we are systematically practicing as part of our daily sadhana. We practice to ultimately bring stillness to body and mind. Yoga is the science of self-realization, or knowing oneself better. Once the distractions of body and mind have faded or diminished, what remains in the stillness? You, your true essence or ultimate truth… that one-ness of yoga.
Next time you attend a yoga class, try infusing one of the practices outlined by Patanjali. For example, when breathing in a pose that you don't particularly like, can you create santosha or contentment in that pose? Why don't you like the pose? Is there a struggle mentally or physically? What can you do to embody contentment here and now? Once you begin to feel the energy of santosha, your yogic rhythm will come to life and things will seem very enlivened, yet effortless. With that as your experience, a true smile may arise from the heart, a grace not common in the workforce or workout gym. Allow yoga to be it's own practice, separate from anything else that you do. Allow yoga to enhance your life and bring clarity, energy and healing. Once you feel more yourself, you can spread this wealth of happiness to those in need. As Rumi once profoundly wrote, "Let the beauty we love be what we do.