Yoga - Stillness or movement?
by Shameem Akthar
A dynamic stillness is what yoga is all about
Shameem Akthar has trained as yoga Acharya with
the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, Kerala, and
is a master-trainer in neuro-linguistic psychology.
When I do a workshop on yoga-flows (vinyasa yoga), I get reactions from some people, set
about what yoga must be. They call to tell me that yoga is all about stillness and the concept of motion is incompatible with that!
I have several retorts to it. Usually, that comes from my own practice, and from yogic texts. One of my favourite is from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, ‘Being attached to a set of rules is limiting and not yogic.’ While stillness is ideal on the mat, often that is not the prescription for lethargic people. Stillness is surely different from lethargy. A dynamic stillness is what yoga is all about.
Very few practitioners truly experience that. Those who do not understand motion cannot understand stillness either. There is a correlation between these two; to understand one, you must also be intimate with the other.
In fact, ayurveda prescribes a dynamic practice for the kapha dosha (those veering towards lethargic choices). Even if you may have selected a certain type of practice for yourself – either dynamic or static – you have to be able to switch from one to another depending on the time of the day, the state of your own mind, the flow of a particular element in your body. Sticking to one type of practice just because it aligns with your comfort zone will not help you in the end, even spiritually.
Yoga itself has variations of its basic poses, to which the prefix druta or dynamic is attached. Another way to make a practice dynamic is to incorporate a flow or sequence (vinyasa). Those who argue that a flow can conflict with the idea of stillness clearly have it wrong. In a yoga flow, the mind has to be supremely focussed since dropping from one pose to another involves intricate nervous co-ordination. The focus on the flow of poses cannot also shift. All these completely engage the mind. Here the mind is still and focussed, while the body is flowing. Yoga builds upon this stillness. Sitting still in a pose while allowing the mind to run riot, surely that is not stillness!
Eka pada adhomukhasvasana (One-legged downward facing dog):
Start with the pose called the adhomukhasvasana or the downward facing dog (parvatasana or mountain pose). Kneel down. Lean forward to place palms flat on ground in front. Exhale. Hoist hips off the floor, pushing down shoulders as you continue breathing, making following adjustments. Push down heels. Focus attention on stomach. Apply pressure from shoulder blades. Move head as close to the ground as possible. Hold the pose as long as you can. Then lift right leg up and high, trying to keep that leg out straight behind. Exhale. Drop it gently back to the ground. Repeat for the left leg.
Benefits: Is a powerful stamina-builder. It boosts calmness due to blood flow to brain, balances blood pressure, both low and high. It also alleviates all spinal problems, and tones the arms and the legs. The entire body gets a workout. It removes wrinkles.