Yoga - Mind it!
by Shameem Akthar
When we try to execute a technically perfect yoga pose, we are also practicing mindfulness.
Shameem Akthar has trained as yoga Acharya with
the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, Kerala, and
is a master-trainer in neuro-linguistic psychology.
Some yoga schools dismiss the learning of new poses as a gym stunt. However, one important reason for learning new poses is to develop mindfulness. Doing an old pose continuously creates a comfort level, and, this, in turn, allows the mind to gad about. On the other hand, doing a pose with technical perfection encourages mindfulness.
But whether it is a new pose or an old one, doing it with technical finesse calls for complete absorption of the mind. Strangely, I have noticed that yoga schools that fuss a lot about raja (mind) yoga often execute poses with a lot of sloppiness.
This is incompatible with mindfulness. A sadhana which is imperfect is a sadhana which sabotages the very purpose of your yoga practice. This could include your spiritual growth.
Focussing on the mat, on your body, is also mindfulness. Au contraire, it powers your spiritual muscles by shutting out a lot of clutter and static that streams in from outside. Technical finesse in your sadhana creates the best conditions for pratyahara (withdrawal of senses from their distractions).
Technical finesse also demands that one face physical strain and transcend it. It gives you the courage to take on a challenge. It helps push pain to the background of the mind firmly. It creates the ideal state of vairagya (dispassion). Also, not being aware of where your body begins and ends cannot be construed as mind control! If anything, it displays a complete opposite of that! It also shows fearfulness, anxiety, inability to control or shut out mental static and excitement. The body-mind disconnect is cited by some reputed yoga schools to dismiss hatha yoga (today regarded as the physical culture of this science). However, that disconnect was meant for and associated with saints who were at another level altogether. It was not meant for aspirants in whose hands a good yogasana practice was meant to be the ideal tool.
If you see a person executing a pose flaccidly, and if he refuses to be corrected, or keeps repeating the mistakes, it is not a sign of mental control!
(Cat stretch, the push-up variation)
Go on your fours, like a cat. Place ankles over each other, behind you. Place palms lightly inside, under either shoulder. Inhale, exhale with chest over the hands. Inhale, lift chest up once more. This is one round. Do up to five rounds initially. Slowly, you may develop the number of times you do this, so that you can increase it up to 10 to 20 times at a stretch.
Benefits: Develops upper body focus. Makes wrists strong. Arms are also strengthened. Develops flexibility of the upper back that should help you with other advanced poses. Improves mental stamina since the upper body, up to the neck region, is where the primary fear centre in the body is lodged. It is a reactive part of our body that constricts under stress.
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