Yoga - To reach, release
by Shameem Akthar
Only when we relax in a pose are we capable of going to its depth,
says Shameem Akthar
Shameem Akthar has trained as yoga Acharya with
the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, Kerala, and
is a master-trainer in neuro-linguistic psychology.
We do not realise just how much yoga poses are used in emotional culturing. Most poses have such a footprint on our mind spaces. For me, one fascinating part of doing a pose is that to reach deeper into it, you really need to release and relax.
This does not mean to slacken the physical effort, but just to redirect it with the mind so that you realise where you may be unnecessarily stiffening and therefore actually sabotaging a pose. For instance, in a good headstand, you need to relax the neck to stay up longer. For this, the effort must be mentally directed to the stronger shoulder blades to take the load off the neck. Many people, even those who do the headstand, often put the entire pressure on the neck. This could cause cervical spondylosis in the long term! So, the idea of shifting the tension by relaxing a body part not required for the pose is a wonderful lesson we can carry over into our day-to-day lives. We are generally contracted in a state of preparedness and thus fatigue hits before a task starts!
Similarly, in several forward bends, it is very essential to relax the neck. Most people, when trying to deepen the pose, will contract the upper back. This, in effect, contracts the whole effort, sabotaging it completely. Also, they will try to reach forward, from the spine. In fact, often several other parts of the body may be involved – back of the legs, hips. To be unaware of this and shift the load to a part already straining will only ruin both the pose and the effort. Even if the pose is reached thus, it will probably have unpleasant repercussions later on. To realise that contraction is not effort is a good life's lesson that will help us take on stress better.
Standing poses demonstrate this concept even more dramatically. In the well-executed warrior pose (virbhadrasana, the balancing version), even though the action appears to be in the lifted leg, it is the supporting leg below where the focus must be. It immediately will calm the mind, giving it the extra push to help you reach more deeply into the pose so your body forms that perfect T mid-air. In fact, every pose invites this shift of awareness, where some body parts that are contracted with effort must be deliberately relaxed. It can be a continuing learning process that transfers into mastery of the ordinary and extraordinary challenges that life can throw up.
Stand with feet a meter across. Then pass hands behind, to interlock fingers. Inhale. Exhaling, lean forward to place crown on the floor. Walk your feet more apart, to ensure you are not bending at the knees. Hold the pose, extending arms behind, as high and away from the body as possible. Though the head is placed down, the weight must not be shifted there, but awareness must be maintained at the legs and hips to hold the pose longer.
Breathe normally through out. To release from pose, release hands, walk feet back to centre, or jump back, to stand up.
Tones the whole body and mind superbly. Relaxes the mind. Is beneficial for the reproductive system in particular.
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