Friday, May 28, 2010

Where the Magic Happens.

Yoga. You either love it or hate it.

One of my newer students came up to me at the end of class the other night and thanked me for holding postures. I smiled to myself as she walked away.

There is a growing trend in America to speed up Yoga, as only we Americans love to do. Faster means better, right? Faster cars. Faster Internet. Faster stove tops, even. And don't get me wrong, there are many times in my own practice when I love to have a faster practice. But, when it comes to Yoga, faster does not necessarily mean better.

I teach Kripalu Yoga; the Yoga of compassion. The Sanskrit translation of "kripalu" actually is "compassion". We were taught in Yoga school to take integrative pauses between postures so that the prana (life-force energy) has time to be absorbed into the body. This pause is an act of self-compassion. It gives your body time to re-energize. The prana is created through the movement or postures (asanas) and the breathing circulates the prana. When you take a pause to just breathe between postures, the healing energy that the asana generated has time to work.

Each asana has its own prana and energetic story. Even the name of the posture has a specific vibration that contributes to the overall prana of the asana. Take "Utkatasana" for example. We Americans love to translate this as "Chair Pose" when the actual Sanskrit translation of "utkata" is large, immense, and spacious. Feel the energetic difference between "chair" and "spacious". So when you are holding utkatasana for more than one breath, which is a challenge for many of us, it can be more liberating to think about being immense and spacious than to think about sitting in a chair.

Most of the advanced yogis and yoginis I know hold postures for long lengths of time. When was the last time you were in a class where you held utkatasana for 5 minutes? 10 minutes? If you are a regular practitioner your muscles are probably having a visceral response just by reading this. You can probably feel your quads burning.

It is in this holding where the magic happens. It is in the holding when we feel the resistance. This is where we get to explore why and what we are resisting. Maybe, just maybe, then, in this holding we can find the answers. It is in this energetic story of the asana that occurs during the holding where we can experience both a response in the annamaya kosha (physical sheath) as well in the manomaya kosha (mind sheath). With a deep exploration of the responses that are experienced in the holding, one can gain greater growth, both physically and spiritually.

Here's where I think a practice that involves only fast movement fails. In my limited experience of Yoga, I have found that folks who tell me they "hate" Yoga say the reason they hate it is because it's "too slow". What they really hate is the self-exploration that the holding brings. In the continuous fast movement being marketed as "Yoga" these days, you can easily avoid the self-exploration for which the science of traditional Yoga was developed. And I'm sure you get quite a bit of physical benefit from a non-holding practice but my ego says, "Why do a practice where there's no spiritual growth?" But, hey, that's my ego talking....

It is in the holding when we are allowed to feel the sweet spot of release. This is what addicted me to this practice. The first time I felt my body release into a posture was the first time I felt bliss. Bliss is like a divine drug. This heavenly high expands consciousness, the ultimate goal, and is what keeps most of us on the path towards enlightenment.

So, if you are a Yoga hater, explore what it is that you hate. And if you are a Yoga lover and happen to love a vigorous practice know that a slow practice can be just as challenging; try holding chair for 10 minutes.... And whether you love it or hate it, remember that the answers lie in the resistance.

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