A long time ago, I could attend a teacher training in yoga. The teacher was beneficial in sharing information about alignment and adjustments. We practiced asana staples during the workshop: standing poses, forward bends, and twists. We also explored “fancy” poses throughout the workshop. These are the crazy backbends, impossible leg stretches, and pretzel arm balances. The teacher would instruct the rest of the class to do the same poses until only a handful of students out of 100 would succeed. It was a theory that if you work hard enough and push through your body’s resistance, you can become a yoga master.
I did not resent the yoga masters who taught that class. My hypermobile hip joints were applauded several times throughout the workshop, especially when I was doing hip-opening poses. What’s behind the head? It’s not a problem. All my joints are hypermobile. Almost all the poses that require extreme hypermobility are within reach. Despite receiving applause, I felt uncomfortable. These flexible joints were challenging to me. They were my natural gift. Is it a point of practice to distort one’s body for a fancy pose?
YOGA MOVES WEST
We adapted yoga to our culture when it arrived in the West. We first created a multilayered, comprehensive set of practices that covered every aspect of human existence and then emphasized the physical. Yoga is synonymous with physical exercise. You can also study the eight limbs, pranayama, meditation, and other aspects. We can also learn about different types of yoga, such as Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti. If we are lucky enough to find a teacher, we can also practice them. Asana, or physical practice, is the most popular aspect.
Second, asana has been adapted to the West’s physical training methods. We aim to reach higher physical goals. We strive to overcome our limitations and achieve greater rewards. To be a master at yoga, you must be able to perform challenging poses or extreme versions of the easier ones.
What is a YOGA MASTER?
Western yoga practitioners view yoga’s physical practice from the same lens as we do. Our practice should be tailored to fit the lifestyle we live now. We all lead typical Western lifestyles with families, jobs, and homes. Our lives are not like yogis who devote their entire lives to practicing yoga. (I don’t use the yogi term to describe myself or other Western practitioners.
Even so, yoga sutras can provide insight into the motivations behind asana practice. It’s an unWestern interpretation. These are some translations of Sutra 1.47, which describe mastery over asana.
- When all effort is released, and the mind is fully absorbed in the Infinite, [Asana] can be mastered. (trans. Alistair Shearer)
- This can be achieved 1) by letting go of effort and non-use will and 2) by constant awareness of the infinite, everlasting existence. (trans. Swami Venkatesananda)
- You can achieve it by letting go of all effort and relaxing like the cosmic serpent in the waters of Infinity. (trans. Barbara Stoler Miller)
Although these translations may approach the subject slightly differently, they all share one thing: relaxation. The key to mastery is to let go of striving. This allows you to become absorbed in infinite awareness, which is what every translator calls it. Infinite understanding refers to seeing every moment without judgment, craving, or aversion.
3 STEPS TO RELAXING EFFORTS
When you are learning new ways of practicing yoga, it can be helpful to have a process. These steps can be applied to any pose of yoga.
- Your edge can be refined: We have a lot of freedom in interpreting our edge. As in all physical disciplines, yoga often considers the edge the point where you cannot go further. There are better ideas than this for asana practice. There are many movement options available for those who feel resistance. You also have more time to relax in your posture. Be mindful as you move into your pose. If you feel resistance to your movements, even though you know you can do more, you should stop and take a deep breath.
- Encourage relaxation: Are you tensing in certain body parts, such as your neck, shoulders, jaw, eyes, abdomen, or jaw? You may be drawing your yoga practice in those areas. Take a look at your body; if you feel too much effort, allow that area to relax.
- Your breath will guide you to your poses. Every inhalation and exhalation encourages the body to move into or out of each pose. Your body will naturally move deeper into or away from your posture every time you inhale. The same goes for your exhalations. We tend to push beyond the retractive phase in this culture. This is because we have Western ideas about what a yoga master looks like. This not only limits the natural movements of our body but also hinders the flow and movement of the breath.
How to become a YOGA MASTER
- On a yoga pad, sit in Dandasana (Staff Position). To help your spine stay straighter, place a folded Yoga blanket under your pelvis.
- Your knees should be bent so you can reach your hip joints. To help you relax into the pose, place a folded yoga blanket underneath your knees.
- From your hip joints, bend forward and extend your torso over your legs. This will allow you to move into Paschimottanasana (“Seated Forward Bend”). As you lean forward, lengthen your torso. Just as your back or hamstrings feel stiff, stop. You should feel a mild stretching sensation.
- Look around your body. Do your shoulders feel tight? Are your jaws closed? Are you grinding your teeth? What about your eyes? Allow tension areas to be released and relaxed.
- Now, relax and breathe at the edge. As you inhale, notice how your torso lifts slightly forward. Next, it will want to relax more on the exhalation. Allow your torso and ribs to settle into the oscillating motion with each inhalation. Instead of forcing your breath into a specific shape, allow the pose to emerging from the breath.
- Take 5-10 deep, relaxing inhalations. Then, raise your torso to Dandasana with an inhalation.
RELAX TO MASTERY
This is a great way to practice yoga. I am working with my body and not trying to conquer it. It allows us to see that asana is not a goal but a process. The Infinite, which the sutras refer to as the ever-changing present, is when we connect our awareness with the natural unfolding of the body. Yoga mastery doesn’t require you to be solid or flexible. Learning to love your body and be comfortable with where you are is enough.