Introduction: Is yoga the same as stretching?
For a long time, my yoga practice was about mastering certain postures. I worked really hard to stick a handstand. I went to vinyasa class and wanted so badly to be able to defy gravity and float my feet from downdog to that forward bend at the front of the mat. Fancy arm balances? Yes, please. Bend further? No problem. Big, dancer-like transitions between postures that took me high and then low? Bring it. I worked out. I got better at all of these things and even had moments of of feeling that particular kind of strength, balance and presence in my body that I was seeking. I also got increasingly more sensitive, an enduring shoulder injury, way too much flexibility in important joints, and the realization that this kind of practice was not sustainable.
Was I doing yoga? Does the ability to hold a handstand for 30 seconds make someone good at yoga? If I look at a yoga postures in a magazine and try to do the stuff I see, does that count? How we answer these questions depends on how we define yoga practice and what we think āsana (aaah-sun-uh, the practice of postures) is for. In the next few posts, we’ll look at several definitions of āsana, considerations for structuring a practice, and a few of Patañjali’s yoga sūtras that will give us a sense of what postural practice is all about and what we can look forward to when practice is well established.
Seventeen years after my first yoga class, how I practce āsana is really different from those early years. With the guidance of my teacher and support of peers, my yoga practice is now slow, safe, and satisfying to me in very deep and essential ways. I practice at home, in the quiet. Breath is way more interesting that balancing on my hands. In times when I’ve been injured or in pain, I have ways to stay connected to my practice. And most interestingly, my mind operates much more attentively and peacefully. I can imagine doing yoga like this for the rest of my life.
Here’s the sneak peak for the series…
Part 1: Āsana is about being and becoming
Part 2: What we do in āsana is not normal or ordinary
Part 3: For Āsana to help us operate in a new way, we have to be willing to have new experiences
Part 4: Āsana reaches all parts of our being
Part 5: Vinyāsa krāma: start where you are and take the necessary steps to reach your goal
Part 6: Prevent future suffering (Yoga Sūtra II.16)
Part 7: Āsana should be stable and comfortable (Yoga Sūtra II.46)
Part 8: Āsana helps us loosen the knots and reduce resistance (Yoga Sūtra II.47)
Part 9: The result of āsana practice: we will not be affected by extremes (Yoga Sūtra II.48)