November 16, 2014
I recently attended the “Yoga Arava,” a beautiful Yoga event hosted by various small communities deep in the Israel desert. I guess I had been looking for something “out of the box” and new which drew me to a workshop with a new teacher and a very different style of Yoga than my familiar Iyengar asana practice.
I was a complete novice which was a beautiful feeling. For once, I wasn’t taking notes, or trying to remember a new instruction. I just allowed myself to experience this practice without expectation and without mind, like I did when I first found Yoga. Somehow in the process of becoming a teacher and therapist, my mind became an important part of my practice as I was learning and retaining new information.
As I progress in my practice and look for classes for advanced practitioners, what I find is a tendency for these classes to be more detail oriented, so much so that my mind is overwhelmed at times with instructions. Along with these instructions, there is a sense of rigidity that is created in the muscles, joints and in the brain as I continue to try harder. This, coupled with strict and harsh teachers, has made me question my reason for practicing altogether.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Yoga. Yoga is my life and my path. But I wonder how much asana, and the intense alignment principles have to do with this?
My question is this. When is it enough? Are we always striving to achieve the next more subtle instruction, conquer the next pose, or hold inversions for another minute?
The truth is, I am a Type A personality. I am very disciplined and rigid and have discovered how much I like a sense of control in my day to day life. (Yes, I am also aware that this is a reaction to a fragile inner world, thanks to Yoga). I just wonder if a Yoga asana practice that pushes for more discipline and control is the right style to balance me out. Perhaps it is ideal for someone who needs more discipline and focus, but is it possible that to find more moderation, I may need a practice that allows for more opening, softening, exploration, acceptance and breath?
In time, with practice, I have come back to embrace all the things that drew me to Purna Yoga and the teachings of my teacher Aadil Palkhivala, who infuses the Heart Center into alignment based asana as the main focus. It is a deep, experiential practice that de-emphasizes performance and rigidity and embraces a sense of ‘coming home’ each time your feet meet the mat.
At the Yoga Arava, I spoke with the teacher about the concept of how Linear Yoga has become. It is true that the body moves in diagonals and spirals and that everything in nature does the same. So why do we find ourselves holding poses in right angles for an extended period of time? Is this natural to the human body? Do some styles of Yoga create more tension and wearing down of the joints because of this? Is there another way?
I am only asking questions here and not proposing any answers. I guess the teacher is becoming the student again. I think the day we think we have all the answers is the day we are no longer practicing Yoga.
So my practice today is to keep my mind open, to explore and honor this gift that I have been fortunate to receive and to approach my mat with beginner’s mind each and every day.