Monday, December 20, 2010

Sound and Force or Silence and Stillness?

These days I am coming across several people who mention that they have got small setbacks after attending a yoga class.  This is generally because they have been pushed too hard and some muscle or nerve has given way.  This is often temporary, lasting a few days to a few weeks, but the feeling is uncomfortable especially as the students have been attending short courses.

Ashtanga yoga (modified now into Power yoga) lends itself easily to such forceful adjustments as it is a deceptively vigorous form of yoga.  The original style, as taught by Shri Krishnamacharya  (subsequently popularized and transformed by some of his students including Shri Pattabhi Jois and Shri B.K.S. Iyengar) was a dynamic and fluid one, but dynamism should not be equated to sheer muscular strength or 'adrenalin pumping'.  Like all classical yoga, the method is steeped in silence, the ultimate goal stillness.  The process requires very fine physical control and the use of precise muscular locks and breathing patterns.  This involves a lot of time, practice and understanding of one's body (and mind).

Classes which try and popularize these styles by pushing people to the edge of their physical limits (creating a temporary high) or by drawing attention away from the churning of the mind by constant conversation, yelling (yes! it is not uncommon) or music create only a temporary 'feel good' situation, if at all.  Sometimes, instructors are driven by the simple desire to achieve a certain outcome - at times to prove themselves, sometimes just driven by excessive enthusiasm to help their students learn or do something new.  In these cases, sometimes things click and sometimes they just snap.

Having learnt and practiced the same movements in the same class for years on end (yes! people find it hard to believe that I have not 'moved on'), I feel that it takes time for the student and teacher to understand and be comfortable with each other.  Repeating old movements is not a sign of stagnation and getting small injuries while exploring new movements is not a disaster.  But the process must be approached with caution and with enough time at hand.  In my experience, being pushed into postures rarely helps except when one needs to understand the origin and direction of the movement.  One must be ready for the movement, both physically and mentally, and then it comes of its own and in its own way.  It is often not a question of brute strength at all.  Similarly, the way to silence the mind is not through more noise, but through focusing inward, on the breath and internal energy, and enjoying those short moments of stillness when they come.

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