Monday, October 24, 2011

Comparing Asanas along the Path

In yoga it is taught that comparing ourselves to others is not a good way to walk along the path. Frankly speaking having a bit of what I call 'heathly' comparison is not a bad thing. Furthermore being competitive is not necessarily wrong either. Let me explain.

First, with respect to comparing outselves I am referring to comparing asanas across the board so that we can learn not just about the posture itself, but how it works in our own bodies. Done wisely and well, this helps us better understand why when I bend my knees my back moves forward and when I lift one leg the other turns out on an angle. Second, I have never had an interest in beating someone else out I do have an interest in improving myself. I would like to stay competitive to my former selves rather than continue with the same stuff, unchallenged habits and general automatic pilot tendencies. I wish to reflect on what I am doing, why and how.

When we look at the postures of yoga we often see them as being separate from the others. There is a fascinating discovery in coming to know, however, they are much more integrated and a part of each other. Comparing asanas and movements help us not only to understand how the body works, but also how the mind gets trapped into thinking about ‘one way’ of practising. There are many ways to practice hence the large number of Masters that have emerged over time.

If we look more closely we may see that the forward bend, backbend and standing straight pose have certain elements in common. These present three different (and polar opposite) movements. When standing straight there is pressure on the heels and the legs are strong. In the standing pose of yoga (samasthithi) the buttocks and thighs are contracted, the abdomen drawn in and the sternum lifted. In forward bend, the legs are strong to support the stretch along the back, with the chest moving out as the shoulders roll down and the abdomen is moving inward to support the lift and stretch in the back of waist. The spine is folding downward but essentially resembles the same way it may appear while standing. In the wheel (a familiar backbend to many), the feet are strong and the thighs are pressing upward. There is more pressure on the waist and back, which is not felt while standing or folding forward. However, the movement of the abdomen as well as the arms lengthening as if they were beside your body while standing is similar. Gradually folding back and into a forward pose can begin to feel like a continuum; different beads on the same mala (a garland used for meditation).

In my classes, I teach people to sit in a vajrasana (kneeling pose) or sukhasan (a comfortable cross-legged position if required) between the postures they are practicing. The purpose of this is to return to a calm inner place and to feel the affects of the asana. An equally important objective, however, is to lead the student indirectly to the threshold of their own mind. If the teacher points out to the student where they are not breathing and where they are approaching the asana with a “fixed” perception it usually does not penetrate the students' mind. This is why at a certain point (unlike the conventional Western way of teaching), the yoga teacher lets the student explore on their own. Self-discovery and self-reliance are two of the best gifts that yoga can offer. I do not believe that the teacher's role is to try to define anyone's practice. Suggestions and insructional points are a must, but the entire premise of a yoga class is to create an atmosphere conducive for self-exploration.

While it may appear like an abstract view for some, it is certainly more of an approach that will nurture what yoga intends to provide. That is, a path to know what works, what does not, how your body reacts and to discipline the mind from its continuous identification with "me", "I" and "other".

One of the greatest points that is often missed is that the teacher guides the student toward being their own inner guide. It is the understanding you have all you need to practice and to travel along the path. What has not happened is the knowledge that this is actually the case.