I have heard this sentence many times, but it should be the other way round: “As I am not flexible, yoga is for me”. The belief that it is only possible to do yoga if you are flexible (when we actually mean “elastic”) is the reflection of the approach, mostly shallow and wrong, that we use to define our daily life in Western society. Yoga is not just a physical matter. In fact, the physical part of it is the consequence and result of a deeper practice rooted in breathing.
Identifying the level of elasticity only with regards to our metabolism is not enough. Part of that elasticity actually explains the way you face life. For example, a person who is under continuous stress will end up in a state of high tension. This tension can manifest itself in two different forms: psychological or emotional, and physical.
Psychological or emotional stress is the result of hectic mental activity —a ruthless attack from our own thoughts, many of them destructive, that lead us to exhaustion. Physical tension appears in the form of stiffness, contractures, injuries and organ disorders.
How can we resolve this state of stress? One option is to gorge yourself with anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants and tranquilisers. The other option is to control your breathing. The first option has immediate but temporary effects, but also ends up making the organism dependent. The second one has mid-term effects which are long-lasting and can be self-controlled.
In order to act on the physical and mental blockages it is necessary to release tension. To release tension, we must control our breathing, and more precisely, the exhalation. We should focus on long exhalations: taking time to exhale two or three times longer than the inhalation. Long exhalations help us pace down the heart rate, and it is only when we calm down our heart rate that we are able to calm our mental activity. And it is only when we calm down our mental activity that we can release tension, both physical and emotional. This work is the foundation of yoga and it will undoubtedly increase your elasticity.
Duna Yoga. February 2019.
You will rarely —hardly ever—need to strain to do yoga asanas. Being strong is a different matter, in fact it is convenient, but strength is something you gain with yoga day after day, as you progress with your practice. With yoga you work on your strength, the strength that provides you stability, the stability that gives you confidence, the confidence which is required to develop the creativity and determination we need to better face life challenges.
We can see some examples of this need for determination in some of the inverted poses, such as sarvangasana, sirsasana, kakasana… as well as in some others which are not inverted and that in fact might seem easier to do, like vrikasana or “tree pose”. With vrikasana, we usually set the challenge in maintaining our balance. Well, although it is a balance asana, next time, instead of focusing on maintaining your balance, just try to grow. Simply focus on that. Change the word “maintain” to “grow” and put it into practice. You will see the difference. A flower’s commitment is not to maintain itself in balance but to grow towards the light, with determination.
Likewise, you haven’t come into the world to maintain balance, but to develop your inner self, with determination. This principle is valid for everything in yoga, and by extension, for our day to day life. Facing the asanas through the path of determination will help your mind and body connect. Combining determination and breathing will make you sparkle.
Society demands us to make huge efforts —although that’s not really true. It is not society as such that demands huge efforts but rather the education we have received. Making an effort at school, during our studies, at work, in our family life, with friendships… To illustrate my point, I’ll provide a real-life example: some of our yoga friends are preparing themselves for a position in the public system to thus guarantee a permanent job. Interestingly, the moment you meet them, you can easily see they are excellent professionals who love their jobs. Why do they have to do an extra effort to guarantee something they already love to do, do well and which moreover implies a service for others? Isn’t it ridiculous that the outcome of one exam is the key to guarantee a job they already dedicate themselves to passionately?
Maybe when we tell ourselves that we have to make an effort, what we actually mean is that we have to over-exert ourselves, something we should be careful about because it always ends up taking a toll.
There is no asana in yoga that involves over-exerting ourselves. If, at any time, we feel we are straining too much, we need to reconsider what we can improve to progress under better conditions. It could be a small adjustment in the hips, perhaps a calibration in the twist, perhaps balancing the weight towards the base foot… This is not to say that we don’t need to keep strengthening ourselves for the practice, because strength provides stability, stability provides confidence, and confidence is the grounding to confront challenges with creativity —those challenges we find in our practice as well as in our daily life.
But then, where is the effort in yoga? Well, it turns out it is mostly present before the practice. There is effort in the practice too, of course; but I think we can agree that, in our practice, and even more so at the end of it, we feel a pleasant sensation of gratitude towards it. The effort, therefore, happens before —to keep practicing, especially on these days when spring dazes us with its beautiful explosion of nature making us just that little bit lazier.
Time to put a smile on, make a bit of an effort and keep practicing!
April 8, 2019.
During our training in Swasti Yoga (Rishikesh, India), our master Surinder Singh —observing that we were unable to handle all the studying of asanas in our usual westernised style of learning— insisted that we stopped taking notes and writing, black on white, each of the details he was explaining. We, unanimously I’d say, ended up doing so. And, of course, he was right. Master Surinder’s aim was for us to understand something we thought to be absolutely impossible. He would say: “Everything you are learning here will be reflected as soon as you get back to your hometown and start developing your own yoga”. And surprisingly, it has been the case. Most of the merit, if not all, is his, for his ability to awaken the yoga we all carry inside ourselves.
However, and despite this, in the world of yoga you will still find many cases where the practice is subject to huge inflexibility and even orthodoxy. Restricting the practice to a certain set of rules, without giving the opportunity to internalise it or understand how it helps to connect body and mind, builds a path that takes us away from the virtues of yoga and, consequently, drives us further away from the development of our own self.
Yoga adapts to us —not the other way round. It is the combination of consciousness and determination in each asana that allows us discover our own happiness. And the truth is each one of us understands happiness in our own way, without rules. Happiness means peace and love, and yoga, like love, is beyond all rules.
Gabriel Pena | Duna Yoga
May 2nd, 2019. Maó, Menorca.