Like golf and life, yoga is a solitary activity in that we are only ever in the act of improving on ourselves. To do otherwise in a yoga practice — compete with another — only results in distorting our own map for self awareness. Most often, competing ends in suffering of some nature — emotional, psychological, or physical. When I first started classes, I couldn’t help but look around the room and see Lisa over there doing an inverted gazelle thing — headstand with legs split and one leg bent to touch toe to opposite knee — you have to see it. Very steady — very graceful.
I wanted that. I started practicing at home. Of course my son could flip himself upside down in a nano and stay there indefinitely — breathing out “It’s easy!” I finally ‘got it’ and succeeded in ratcheting several of my neck vertebrates down a few notches and ended up at the chiropractor. I did the same on a few other ‘elegant’ yoga poses until I finally calmed down and learned a little more about the practice of yoga and meaning of yoga poses.
Yoga is only ever called a practice because even the greatest yogis continue to improve on their own relationship with themselves — their physical self and their higher Self. It’s never about achievement, but about awareness and attention. No matter what your level of physical strength, flexibility, or health, yoga poses — or asanas — bring the intended benefit to the body and mind.
There should never be pain or discomfort when practicing yoga. Yoga poses can be intensified but not to the point of pain. Gentleness and breathing can allow an easing into deeper alignment. Existing injuries and contraindications must always be respected. An experienced teacher will make recommendations or adjustments to bypass or strengthen specific issues. As the body strengthens and becomes more flexible the posture can go deeper but the ‘more’ you get out of a deepening practice is as much about mindfulness as physical agility.
Secondly, each asana aligns the body in a very specific way to achieve its goal of flexing or strengthening the body, stimulating the organs, or focusing the mind. Yoga poses each have a Sanskrit name which describes the action of the pose, but more importantly the esoteric meaning of the pose. For instance, Adho Mukha Svanasana means down-facing-dog-posture. It’s the one we see so often — hands on the floor, legs and arms straight, butt in the air. It strengthens arms, wrists and shoulders, stretches legs, aids digestion and relaxation. But more than that — it teaches abeyance and humility. Mountain pose, Tadasana, teaches power and solidity in stillness. And the most difficult pose of all, Shavasana, Corpse pose, requires the complete letting go of all muscles in the body, face, tongue, toes and falling into the ground, mind blank as in the stillness of death. Falling into the floor is the easy part, the rest is nearly impossible.
In yoga we learn that you can no more separate the mind, emotions, or spirit from the body than you can separate white from rice — as they say. When we experience difficulty — or resistance — to a position it may either be a physical block or an emotional impasse. As we gently work into the alignment of various yoga poses, we might experience an emotional release — either in laughter or tears (there is always a box of tissue in a yoga studio). My own experience of this was very profound. I could not for the life of me do Chakrasana or Wheel pose. This is a backward bend with hands and feet on the floor, belly arched and head hanging relaxed and loose between the shoulders. It is a pose of great strength and enormous vulnerability with the heart open and the viscera pushing skyward.
Every time I would try, I would fear my wrists snapping, body collapsing and my neck breaking. There was no rationale to this fear. Even when my teacher, Gita, gently held my arched back in support, my panic was complete and I gasped out “I can’t support myself!” We both heard what I said and knew the deeper meaning. It was a time of great upheaval in my life, when my husband was suffering from cancer and not expected to live the year. Yoga brought my fears to the surface where they could be dealt with.
Outside of class, I partnered on Saturdays with Lisa — of the gazelle grace. She gave me a gorgeous photo from a yoga book showing Chakrasana done to perfection. I put it on my fridge and carried on with my practice as usual. One day — on my own, I went to my mat and with strength and confidence I raised myself up in complete trust and supplication. Yoga gave me the power to be weak, the strength to be real, and the grace to endure great sorrow. And ultimately the joy that comes from the acceptance (santosha) of life exactly as it is in all its brights and darks.
Yoga means union as in ‘the state of union with the divine’ or ‘oneness with the great reality’. To me oneness is the same as holism. All things are contained in the infinite field of creation. Light and dark, beauty and ugliness, creativity and dissolution, fear and courage, strength and flexibility, power and humility are each a side of the same coin. Yoga allows us to contain all aspects of our whole Self. Yoga allows us to bring harmony to body, mind and spirit and as we embrace and nurture our weaknesses along with our strengths, we become more self accepting and inevitably self loving. In our love of self we truly complete the union with the divine and are one with all creation.
The gift of that is we become free to be exactly who we are. We can express our unique abilities with gusto and joyful creation. When we are ourselves we cannot get it wrong! No one can judge us. No one does ‘you’ better than you do! You have something to give this world in business, innovation, art, teaching, or research that no one else can do in just the same way. When we know this then true collaboration can emerge and the evolution of humanity takes a turn toward bliss!
Namaste (nama — to bow, te — you) It is an expression of humility and honouring of all that you are.
To your health!
Originally published at lightbeam.org on February 16, 2014.
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Originally published at medium.com