Yoga - Slow and steady
by Shameem Akthar
When you hold a pose for a length of time, you can combat and transcend the waves and patterns of the mind, says Shameen Akthar
Shameem Akthar has trained as yoga Acharya with
the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, Kerala, and
is a master-trainer in neuro-linguistic psychology.
As my practice grows, I revert to Patanjali's sutra: 'Sthira Sukham Asanam' (only when you are steady and happy in a pose can you be said to be practising asana) with wonder again and again, because to be steady in a pose is so difficult. It comes from the mind which chooses to fight the wavering in the body and even its own shiftiness. There may be pain in the pose, there may be a slackness of muscles when you continue holding. Often the mind will disrupt a pose by getting distracted by simple things – nervousness over performance in a group, boredom if practising alone, interpreting sweatiness as fatigue.
As you hold the pose and become aware of these waves and patterns of the mind (vrittis), you learn to dismiss them even as they arise. So, for me, and for serious practitioners, this is the most meditative part of holding a pose for long. It is saying `neti, neti' (not this, not this) continuously. And suddenly, the mind will enter the zone of pure alertness to itself. In a manner of speaking holding a pose for long actually brings up the mind at close quarters, so you can learn to disengage from it.
This is more demanding than even sitting cross-legged and trying to watch the mind.
You also realise that the body and mind are intimately connected. The wonder of that comes when you realise that the body has so many powerful psycho-somatic centres where you can feel fear, excitement, stimulation, exhilaration, release, anger as these parts are touched upon. For instance, the plough (halasana) hits upon the primary fear centre in the body: that sense of what you feel when someone stares at you from behind. This explains why this pose gives so much trouble to a lot of people, including very strong men. It is not stiffness, but an extreme connection to something primeval lodged into our biological being.
The fish pose (matysasana) can make many people break out in tears – it hits into the heart chakra, the centre not just of love for the rest of the world but also of oneself. That may explain why asana was seen as a lower limb – cleansing – practice that could propel you into the higher limbs of yoga.
Steadiness in a pose – as the verse suggests – is clearly, then, beyond the body. It calls upon strengths from the mind. That has been my experience as a teacher.
(Chair squat pose):
Stand up straight, feet a foot apart, pointed ahead. Place hands out, at shoulder level, fingers pointed ahead. Inhale. While exhaling squat, drawing the hips lower. Adjust the torso so it does not tilt forward. Continue normal breathing. Focus your eyes ahead, between the hands. Hold the pose steadily for 10 to 15 seconds on first attempt. After regular practice, you may increase duration to half minute or more.
Builds mental and physical stamina. Is therapeutic in most chronic ailments. Tones the entire body, and aids weight loss.
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