By Shameem Akhtar
Once you overcome your mind’s resistance to the stillness in yoga that it calls boring, you will choreograph an exciting intimacy between your mind and body?
As a yoga teacher, the hardest thing for me is to convince beginners that yoga is not boring. The very thought of their body remaining motionless for any substantial time makes people extremely uncomfortable about learning yoga. They relate stillness with boredom. And therefore, a few innovators have even made mish-mash versions of yoga to circumvent this inhibition.
What is it about being motionless that makes people bored? Why is classical yoga rather insistent on this? Is boredom inevitable with motionlessness and stillness? Being naturally hyperactive (the over-stimulated rajasic type, ripe for burn-outs!), I have myself had a face-off with my sadhana on this aspect several times. But while innovators have made dynamic versions acceptable among the hyperactive persons, classical yoga has wisely noted that it is precisely these persons who need to do yoga slowly, with emphasis on stillness. If they get bored, they have to confront this boredom. In fact, for a hyperactive person to do yoga in an over-stimulated fashion could be counter-productive – leading to physical ailments! The stillness that yoga recommends – and that people find tedious – is tied to health.
Let us face it: the most precious things in life – be it exquisite art, long-lasting relationships, profess-ional success, superb health or a good body – are all based on tedious work. None of these can be accomplished by passion alone. Passion provides the initial impetus, but after that, the minutiae involve tedious detail. I have watched Shah Rukh Khan shooting for a dance sequence and have come away admiring how many times he can do the same move with equal, if not more, verve, each time. This is what makes an extremely ordinary looking man a heart-throb of old ladies, teens, and tiny tots. He offers this energy on screen, by working the tedious details with the same love he would give the exciting moments in a storyline.
Similarly, infatuation may be a fine spark to a relationship. But beyond infatuation, what sustains love between two individuals, is the ability to handle the less passionate moments with equal emotion – you cannot be passionate while taking care of the other in sickness; you cannot be passionate while watching your beloved in his or her weaker moments and remain non-judgmental; you cannot be passionate while sharing tedious chores with a smile. So too it is with child-rearing – a parent’s love is on display during the tedious chores – cleaning snotty noses, washing runny little buttocks, sitting through endless dance rehearsals, waking up nights without a murmur when sickness comes calling. Love endures because it is tested during such tedious moments. Similarly, while passion may keep our careers on a roll, what makes us satisfied is the ability to meet, with dedication, tedious deadlines and giving concerted attention to the boring nitty-gritty.
There is a great saying, which I paraphrase: What distinguishes a courageous man from the others is not that he is braver, but that he lasts five seconds longer. The ability to hold on in passion or in its absence, with equal verve, is the same for health or for yoga, as for all other enduring habits.
So, to return to the original question: Is yoga boring? So many yoga practitioners, including even yoga teachers themselves, flag off and drop their sadhana because they want some entertainment. They are unable to rest in the stillness of the body, because it exposes the restlessness of the mind. This admission is very difficult for all of us. We cannot accept that ‘we’ (by which I mean our minds) are not still, even while sitting still. We cannot accept the jumpiness of the mind. Only an attempt to still the body, which yoga teaches, can expose this inherent crack in us. It is through this crack that our ailments seep in.
Here I like to relate a story of Lord Buddha. He was discussing happiness with his disciple, King Bimbisara who wanted to experience ananda. ‘Do you think you are happy and content now?’ asked Buddha. ‘Yes, my lord,’ replied the king. ‘Would you be happy meditating for one hour?’ ‘Definitely,’ replied the king. ‘Three hours?’ ‘Yes, I think so,’ replied the king, a trifle doubtfully. ‘What about eight hours,’ continued Buddha. ‘I feel I cannot be – I will be distracted by many things I am required to do,’ replied the king. The difference between the Buddha and the king was that the former could sit, unaffected and not nagged by the struggle to achieve, to do, and to prove anything. He could experience happiness for one minute and extend that happiness for the entire day because his mind was in his control.
The rest of us are moved, like dust motes in the breeze, by external currents. No wonder we are plagued by illnesses that ostensibly blow in from outside. But yoga teaches us some inner control by first teaching us to control the physique. The mind is reached through the instrument of the body. The still poses bring the mind and body closer and closer. If the initial boredom is vaulted, you enter the exciting zone of intimacy between two aspects of yourself, which have, through neglect, become complete strangers. What you suspected to be boredom, you realize, was only a trick. Somewhat akin to the proverbial mother-in-law (boredom) who never wants her son (your body) to get intimate with his bride (your mind)! That is why health is such a powerful expression of a true yoga practitioner. Because the physical control he or she learns extends to the subconscious mind. This tangentially averts illness. For instance, if you get a blocked nose, you cannot cure yourself as a yoga practitioner can. Because even if you will it, as you surely must while you are meeting a deadline or a more interesting appointment, your blocked nose continues to ail you. This is because you have not created the link between the mind and body during your exercise. This is especially true, if you have been doing some aggressive, dynamic, misdirected regimen that disregards the mind entirely. But in yoga, every move is designed to have a constant dialog between the mind and body, so you can, if you are a regular practitioner, cure yourself or recover faster from any ailment.
As you advance in your yogic stillness this will become more apparent. As you begin to enjoy the stillness in the poses, using the powerful demand each makes on the body-mind complex as a tool for meditation, you will almost never fall ill. I hope this answers the original question.
Trikonasana (The Triangle Pose):
Stand up straight. Place your feet three feet apart, arms out. Inhale, fanning right foot out fully, while left is slightly fanned out. Exhale, twisting to right, reaching left hand to touch right foot. Look up at the right hand held straight up. Hold for a few seconds, breathing normally. Inhale, returning gracefully to starting position. Repeat for the other side.
This seemingly simple pose is tough enough for beginners, giving a good stretch to the glutes, hamstrings and calves. Legs may tend to bend, but make an effort to keep them straight. If hands refuse to remain straight, maintaining awareness at the wrist will help. Thigh muscles may shiver a bit. But initially, hold for a few seconds, just getting the asana right. Do each side three times. Later, to strengthen the mind and tone the body, hold the pose longer and longer.
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