28 Feb


Ironically, in a conversation about yoga beyond the poses, it’s important to speak about the poses. How do they fit with whatever else that is beyond the poses?  Why do them?  Do they matter?  How do we get value from doing them?

As one of many systems that support personal growth and fulfillment, yoga is distinct from the others in that mind, BODY and spirit are engaged.   But this embodied approach makes it a double edged sword.  Although the poses are typically what initially draw people to yoga, if they stay with the poses-only stance, they can quickly find themselves focused on competition, harsh judgments and even hurtful self-criticism.  This is not yoga and in fact, this drives people away from yoga.   It is understandable that so many people get drawn towards this direction.  In the West, we’re taught that we need to work hard to be better than others and if we do, our reward will be found; around the next corner or even somewhere beyond the rainbow. No pain, no gain is the Western mantra.  We aren’t taught to find the value of now or how to deal with things like pride and fear.  Yoga does that.  The word yoga means becoming one.   So long as we stand apart in judgment, we sabotage our potential for connection and growth.

Getting back to the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defined the Eight Limb Path of Yoga.  Poses (asana) are the third limb.  The yamas (restraints) and niyamas (observances) are the first two limbs and they are rarely mentioned in most yoga classes. The yamas are the renunciations to be embraced and the niyamas are the practices to be nurtured.  These concepts along with the physical aspects of yoga practice are the foundation for all that yoga offers.

As we do a pose, we experience a wide range of responses physically and emotionally.  Yogis are taught to observe everything that arises; difficulty, discomfort, fear, boredom, distraction.  The lessons from doing one pose are fodder for the next lessons when a new pose is learned.   Sometimes the best response will be to honor a need to rest and sometimes it is to play with the experience by holding the pose longer or in a slightly different way. Either way, we are honing our ability to know, to see and to feel our full experience with awareness and compassion. We can observe ourselves more clearly and as needed, eventually let things go.

Sudhir Johnathan Foust explains it well.  “Most of the time I’m looking outside myself to have my world view corroborated.  The beauty of yoga is that when we become energetically alive, and our mind becomes drawn into direct experience of the moment, we turn inside; it’s a doorway, a new infinite world of possibilities…. The doorway to insight is the present moment.  So, the question is, how do I enter the present moment? For that, the body is an incredible tool.”

So what’s a yogi to do with all this talk saying that it’s not about the poses followed by a suggestion to get on your mat every day and do poses!!!

What can be done to move from simply doing poses as yet another form of exercise to all the yogic good stuff?

~~ Get on your mat and do yoga-like movements rather than yoga poses. That means lengthen, twist, bend, turn, balance, invert and stretch different parts of your body.  You might start with your head and work your way down or do the reverse and start with your feet.  Bring awareness to each joint as you move it all the ways that it is designed to move. Don’t even think of doing something that feels difficult!  For that matter, don’t do any pose that has a name.  Don’t do any sequences that you learned.  Make up your own sequence and your own poses.  Hold them long enough so you can notice how you feel physically in that pose and how you feel emotionally.  Just note those observations and move to the next pose.

~~ As your body expands or stretches, inhale.  As your body contracts, twists or folds, exhale.  Match every movement with a breath.  When holding a pose, count the number of breaths taken.

~~ Stay on your mat only as long as feels right to you and be sure to leave at least 5 minutes for your final relaxation (shavasana).  Use this time to absorb the entirety of your experience.  Commit to your daily yoga practice.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas and suggestions.  Are they helpful?  What do you do that helps?


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