Yoga - When Body Meets Mind Spirit
by Shameem Akthar
It is the firmness of your discipline, physically, that makes you reach higher – mentally, emotionally and spiritually
Oftentimes some yoga schools and instructors advise you against working too long on yogic poses. They draw such a frightening image of what could go wrong if you struggle too hard at a pose or do something wrong, that most people, especially in India, approach yoga with a certain amount of trepidation.
On the contrary, what you learn as you advance in your daily sadhana is the ease with which the body begins to accept even difficult poses. As I never fail to reiterate in my columns here, some amount of physical exertion is necessary to ensure you gain overall stamina. This stamina at the physical level eventually transfers itself to the mind as well.
If modern-day medical science is seen as being churlish for refusing to accept that every thought produces a bio-chemical footprint in our body, it is equally churlish of serious seekers to refuse to admit that physical stamina must be cultivated as a foundation stone for mental focus.
The several biographies of my sadguru, Swami Sivananda, describe how he would walk briskly in the evenings and vigorously do yogic push-ups at the ashram. Once, when he had organized an international yoga conference he was down with a vicious infection. But he refused to let that stall the conference: not only did he attend it but graced it with so much energy that nobody guessed how unwell he actually was. Here is where mental and physical stamina coincide so beautifully in our great gurus. Ramana Maharishi is also famous for his giripradikshina (walking around the mountain) of his beloved Arunachala.
To gain such inspiring physical stamina you must ensure there is a growth graph in your yogic sadhana too. Sticking to a timid sadhana makes sense when you are very sick or recovering from some major illness. But as you emerge out of this, you need to move on to a challenging level. Schools like my own – Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center and others like the Iyengar yoga – prod you out of physical and mental lethargy by upping the ante on your mat. You can do this either by extending the duration in each of your poses, or by trying an advanced variation of the same pose The most interesting result of such physical advancement will actually be emotional and mental.
What I have noticed, much to my continuing amazement, is that if your mind is at peace on a particular day, your depth in a pose, your strength in holding it far longer, your ability to balance, all co-operate so seamlessly that you enter the pose gracefully, hold it without exertion and move out of it lithely. There is no struggle, no exertion. Au contraire, a conscious letting go occurs which is extremely powerful and spiritually uplifting. It is as if the mind has transfused into the body and vice versa and you experience the ultimate surrender of the spirit and the gentle but definite grace of something profound. As you reach higher in your sadhana, you are actually letting go.
It is crucial here to remember that it is the firmness of your discipline, physically, that makes you reach higher – mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Setuasana (Plank pose):
Sit up straight. Legs must be stretched out straight in front of you. Place palms flat on the ground, on either side of the hips. Inhale, lifting hips off the floor. Simultaneously drop head gently back and push toes down so the soles of the feet are flat on the ground. (This may be difficult to achieve during first attempt, but you must be conscious of this so the body will rectify this eventually). Continue breathing normally, holding the pose for just a few seconds on the first few attempts. Exhale, gently dropping hips back to starting position. Relax, by lying down.
It is used as a counter pose to forward bends like the paschimottanasana (seated forward bend). It tones the arms and legs, removes fat from hips, combats lethargy, boosts respiration, is therapeutic in diabetes and improves stamina.
If having cardiac problems and neck pain.