Yoga - Slow and Steady Does It
by Shameem Akthar
For some beginners it is embarrassing to find that their body is not as flexible as they believed it to be. Many react to This by not facing up to it
It makes for great eye-candy to have Madonna throw her legs over her shoulder in a contortionist act or to see Christy Turlington sit Buddha-like in a tough meditative pose. The ease they display hides the fact that the essence of yogic practice is extremely challenging. If Catherine Zeta-Jones can do a Hanuman pose split better than a teenager, it results from the crushing discipline that these stars impose upon themselves. To reach such lubricated grace seems light years away because of which several beginners lose heart. They suffer from erratic practice once they leave their classes. And eventually, they stop practising altogether, forfeiting the benefits accrued till then.
Some slacken when they compare themselves with others in their class, despite knowing that their neighbour is more agile because of longer, earlier practice. Others envy the feline grace of Penelope Cruz or Richard Gere, wanting to copy this in the first week itself. They know that such grace, however flexible and young one is, requires steady practice. For them, it is easier to challenge their stamina by doing more crunches or running more miles than by testing if they have the patience to stand still in the standing prayer pose stithpratanasana or if they can hold the daunting bow pose for an increasingly longer duration in a meditative manner.
In the basic locust pose, you are merely required to lift both your legs up, holding them against the force of gravity. However, this pose entirely challenges your lungs, your leg strength, your heart condition etc. Holding it for one minute is akin to running six miles. Yet, we all know that most people would rather run six miles than have their physical and mental stamina questioned in this straightforward fashion, as does any hatha yoga practice.
For some beginners it is even more embarrassing to find that their body is not as flexible as they believed it to be. Many react to this self-discovery by not wanting to face up to it. It is easier to be led into other physical activity like running, extreme gym regimes and fast dancing. since these muffle the basic revelations of the body and mind to which a beginner to yoga is exposed. Similarly, even the most perfected person may find it difficult to sustain a commitment to breath control or pranayama. This is despite knowing that the practitioner understands that breath control actually improves upon asana practice and fine-tunes the mind for meditation.
Apart from the wear and tear on one’s resolve and practice is the astounding demand in hatha yoga, where you are required to synchronise your breath with each movement, relax, let go, and then meditate in each pose! This seems like a crushing demand—it is far easier to train oneself to do one hundred crunches than to rein the mind, even when sitting calmly. When one is being excruciatingly challenged in each pose, the beginner finds it a bit far-fetched.
How am I able to anticipate a beginner’s shaky attitude towards this gentle but demanding practice? Because I have stumbled along this selfsame path, committing just these blunders, asking just these questions. Resetting your resolve for daily practise may be as challenging as perfecting a new asana or pose. In fact, for this reason, the legendary Swami Sivananda advises the beginner to set his or her practice within the framework of one’s basic personality.
If it is in your nature to be unable to practise for long, when you have plenty of time, then start practising with a manageable capsule. As you begin to intuit the joy of discipline and as this sends the energy coursing freely through you, you will expand the time spent on it. Even on those days when time is short you would manage to complete a long regimen, working your entire day around your practice. The same applies for your meditation. Do not experiment wildly. Select a meditation technique that suits your personality and stick to it. You will soon become addicted to it, increasing the time spent on it, readying yourself simultaneously for more advanced practices. The more you advance in this inner yoga, the more you are likely to feel that you will always remain a beginner. Thus retaining a rare freshness of enthusiasm that will not wane.
An Asana For Alignment
In Gomukh-tadasana, you stand straight, feet together, looking ahead. Inhaling, lift your right hand, passing it behind your head to touch the left shoulder. Fold your left hand behind your back to clasp your right hand. Look ahead, breathe normally. Repeat the process starting with the other hand. You will be surprised at how one hand obeys your command implicitly while the other stiffly disobeys! Favouring one hand over the other has misaligned you! Most of my students are surprised to discover this aspect of their bodies. But constant practice will help you align both your arms.
Challenge yourself further: Now try the same hand movement sitting down. The seated Gomukh pose calls for extreme hip flexibility. Sit on your haunches, slip on down your left buttock. Now pass your right leg over your left leg, scrunching it deep so the feet flare out on either side like a cow’s ears (hence the name). Now raise the right hand above your head, inhaling and clasp the left hand with it. Keep the body erect, breathing normally. Now repeat the other side. Beginners are often surprised at the tightness in their otherwise mobile legs.