While on the topic of pseudo yogis in my previous post, I tought how could I leave myself out! For now it is just the physical yoga, Hatha Yoga as it is called, that I am talking about here. Rest of it( Raja Yoga etc etc), let us leave that for another time.
I have been dabbling in yoga off and on since quite a few years. And the one thing that I have realised is that yoga is deceptively simple, made more so by our casual and “I-know-it-all” approach. Every other person you meet claims to know yoga without any kind of a formal or organised training. We do our own weird stretches, contortions and breathing in the name of yoga; look for instantaneous results while devoting the minimum time possible to it; and since it is a part of our National heritage, we find it appalling that we have to pay and attend yoga class/training. To make matters worse, there is a plethora of DVDs in the market, many by failed Bollywood starlets, with their own rendition of yoga attributing their great bodies and skin to the benefits of yoga. So here I am with my own pearls of wisdom on yoga that I have accumulated over the past 5-6 years-
- First things first, as I said above- Yoga is deceptively simple– if you want to do it sincerely that is. If it is just few stretches and forced hoo-haa breathing that you are looking at, there is nothing to learn. But if you want to be a sincere practitioner seeking to reap its benefits in totality, it is one of the toughest forms of physical exercise demanding more perseverance, focus, strength and stamina than we are likely to believe. It was not for any other reason that the yogis of the past spent years practising it. Logically it follows then that because of its seeming simplicity, the chances of injury go up as well. Working with a 20kg weight while doing squats you are going to be very cautious; doing a “simple” Bhujang asana (Cobra Pose), you are quite likely to not be as careful and be working with dead fish feet and arms instead. Hence the risk of injury.
- The risk of injury also increases because of our mindset-“ I can’t do anything else, so I’ll do yoga” and the advice one often gets from doctors, specially Orthopaedic doctors, forbidding everything else except yoga. Yes yoga, specially certain forms of it such as Iyengar yoga, has tremendous scope for rehabilitation of those suffering from disc prolapse, (I myself have a L4-L5 prolapse) but only under expert guidance. Ignore this basic caution and the fact that you need to “learn” it, and you put yourself at much greater risk of injury than recovery. The need to find the right teacher, who is able to deliver what you are looking for, is much higher than a good trainer at the gym.
- When you approach the mat, you need to do so with much greater commitment and patience than most of us in today’s world of instantaneous gratifications are likely to exhibit. A month of regular gym workout and you can probably do a good 100 squats with weights. A month of yoga and you are still just exploring – trying to work with your body, grapple with the subtle nuances of breath, opening, alignment and correct pose. Add to it the preset notions we come with as to how an asana should be done or what it should look like or how long one is to hold it, and lesser our patience with ourselves and our body.
- It goes without saying that the fitness level you come with will be instrumental in deciding the speed at which you progress. Someone who is already fit, due to maybe years of any workout, will progress faster than a newbie. Again, however, one needs to remember that yoga is not simply about doing an asana or holding it for long. It is as much as about your mind as about your body. Ability to do fancy looking poses like Chakra Asana or Sarvanga Asana alone is no measure for your success on the mat. If you are approaching yoga just as a physical discipline, you will reap benefits partially at least no doubt, but you are pretty much missing the point of it.
- Yoga at the end of the day is not about an hour spent on the mat but a way of life at the core of which lies control of mind and the ability to live in the moment. As a physical discipline it aims at preparing the body for life’s higher purpose of meditation and spiritual union with the Divine. It aims to approach one’s outlook and attitude towards life through the body. Can you accept your body ( and your life) with its limitations and work within those limitations to explore the maximum it is capable of? Long ago I read Rodney Yee’s book “ The Yoga : Poetry of the body” and it pretty much made no sense to me. He talked about “Falling into Yoga” and all that it meant to me was falling out of every asana! Today after dabbling off and on for 6 years in the discipline, it is somewhat beginning to make sense to me. Yes, I still hanker after the “glamorous” poses and some day hope to get there as well, but as of now, I’m glad falling into a particular moment, a particular asana and my life at a particular point- wherever that be!