Yoga - Consenting to a Pose
by Shameem Akthar
Learn to consent to life by consenting to your asana practice
All of us who chose a spiritual life are asked to first consent to it. Though we believe we have, secretly we also wish to straddle different lives, that of both a materialist and a spiritualist. We also often use spiritual sayings to highlight this ambivalence, seeing this two-headedness as somehow right. Not surprisingly, many of us bring this same ambivalence to our daily yoga sadhana. We can experience this ambivalence even in how we hold a pose.
The first ambivalence surfaces with our decision to be a yoga practitioner: only when there is an ambivalence in our choice do we fail to maintain regularity. If we have consented to our choice we will not miss our sadhana. Consent simplifies life.
Only when the choice is shaky do we experience dissonance, be it in our pose or in the routine of our daily life. When you get up in the morning and feel lethargic about going to the mat, you can ask yourself simply, “Have I really consented to a regular yoga sadhana?” Instead of this straightforward question, we ask childishly, “Do I feel like doing yoga today?” If you ask the latter question, then the answer invariably will be an excuse, often a well-rounded one which will make perfect sense as to why you must skip your sadhana! That is why consent is essential. Because then you will ask the former question, “Have I consented to a regular yoga sadhana?” The answer will always be a ‘yes’. Because consent does not allow for escape routes.
This concept of consent may be transferred to other aspects of our life too. This will de-clutter our life tremendously, making us focussed and effective. For this you need to practice, because consent is not an easy choice which is why most people don’t opt for it. They have complicated reasons for doing this or that. But consent is not often the main tag line. The reason consent does not come easily to us is that from childhood we are forced into things which are, according to well-meaning adults, good for us. So we accept these good things with a certain inbuilt resentment and resistance. Unfortunately, we translate this to our daily life, to all things which are good for us, such as our profession (which many of us suffer), our health (for which we will do something only when we fall sick) or relationships (which we are not willing to work on, after the initial flush fades), or our children (we transfer the same formula of forcing what is good upon them). So, to make consent a habit you must practice it in the bhava or attitude you bring to a pose.
When you get into a pose, you must not struggle with it. Since yoga poses are designed to create a tug between different groups of muscles, as well as with gravity, we become infected with this physical struggle, carrying it into our mind. Then the mind creates a further loop of struggle, affecting the body with this resistance. When we leave the pose, we do it with a sense of achievement. Of course, those who do not get through to the final pose feel disheartened. But both types of practitioners miss the purpose of yoga, which is an easy joy in practice. Therefore it’s crucial to ask yourself whether your aim is to achieve the perfect pose or experience consent towards it. If it is the first, you may struggle a lot before reaching your goal. With the latter question, you will bring your mind into the state of consent, dipping right into a difficult pose.
As you hold a pose, you must sensitise yourself to the inherent struggle you experience at every angle. Move your sense of acceptance to each individual spot strongly resisting. You will feel a subtle unwinding spreading through these resisting parts. Then, the pose is experienced as a joy. You will also learn to translate this ease and joy into daily life. Life is not about selective moments of entertainment, but a flow of joy in our ordinary moments. Let your asana practice show you the way.
Bharadwajasana or Sage Rishi pose All spinal twists create a deep sense of resistance. That is why they are a good set in which to learn consent (or sammatta). Sit on your heels in the classic vajrasana or thunderbolt pose. Inhale. Pass left hand behind to grasp right big toe. Place right hand on left thigh. Exhaling, twist to your right, using your right hand to increase the pressure at the spine. Breathe normally, holding for a few seconds. Inhale, to return to centre. Relax. Repeat for other side.
Shameem Akthar has trained as a Yoga Acharya with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, Kerala, and is a master-trainer in neurolinguistic psychology.