There’s a series of misunderstandings that have crept into Yoga through the years. In India, the idea caught on that Yoga is hard work and great effort is required. Even with all the watering down in the west where the 8 limbs of Yoga (union) have devolved to mean stretching exercises, the idea of effort has remained. In forgetting how to be, we’ve also forgotten how to do.
Now, certainly persistence and determination may be needed to make a habit of regular spiritual practice. But the practice itself should not be seen as requiring effort. Readers of this blog know I recommend an effortless meditation, for example. Done properly, it quickly becomes its own reward.
The same is true of yoga asanas (the stretching part). I’ve sporadically practiced them (yeah, not so much persistence) as light stretching exercise. Last year, I got a new instruction to move just to the first point of stretch rather than moving lightly into the stretch. By going just to the first point, I watched as the muscles gently relaxed and later repeats went progressively further without effort. Best of all, in that gentle relaxation was a wave of bliss. I got happier and happier. The instructor called it bliss-building. (note that this is when done in conjunction with an effortless meditation)
Another bonus – safety. Safety is key here. There is no use taking up a health practice if you’re going to injure yourself doing it. If you’ve not done this sort of thing in a while, your mantra must be moderation.
In this article by Danielle from a nearby islands Yoga studio*, they talk about a recent controversy in Yoga circles. A book was written on the Science of Yoga (asanas) by William Broad, extolling its many virtues and benefits. But also its risks. An except on risks was published in the New York Times titled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.” This created a storm of controversy; the media evidently denouncing yoga and the yoga studios up in arms over the apparent attack.
As the blogger Danielle says “that the real culprit behind yoga injury is attitude. The problem is that despite mouthing a few ‘ohms’ here and there, we’ve embraced yoga like a competitive sport.” “We judge our progress by the difficulty of poses we are able to execute.” She says to forget “finding the edge” and relax. Even the Hatha Yoga Pradipika warns that “over-exertion” is one of the great “destroyers of yoga.”
Perhaps we should seek bliss as the new marker for progress. Bliss isn’t found by trying; it’s found by letting go, by relaxing into the present experience. That’s where the benefits are. And that’s the whole point of it. Bliss is the doorway to union or yoga.
“[He] finally concedes that yoga may well be the closest thing to a ‘cure all’ that science has discovered to date.”
But only if you have right attitude.
*March 10, 2012 article Why Yoga Shouldn’t be “Hard”. I couldn’t find a direct link.