October 2014 By Shameem Akhtar A complete yoga practice would also include balancers, inversions and twists, says Shameem Akhtar An impression is created that yoga is actually about stretching a lot. Often this is deliberately created by the “industry” itself, that yoga has become. So, there is more focus on stretches simply because stretches are easy to negotiate, easy to teach, less “dangerous” (as inversions, including absolutely simple ones like the shoulderstand, are often made out to be, creating a fear psychosis). Actually a complete sadhana/practice needs to include poses from different groups of asanas that challenge different aspects of the body, and more importantly, the mind. Settling into a stretch which is easy, and then becoming still does not always make it meditative. Choosing a difficult stretch which challenges the muscle, balance, joints and the bones positively is what completes the practice. Often, if many stretches are done continuously in a class, it is assumed that something of significance has been practised towards one’s health. However, as explained above, it is more productive to be in a class where the entire body is covered through different groups of asanas. This means that you need standing poses, standing balancers (which are distinct from the former), supine poses, prone ones, backbends and forward stretches, inversions, arm balancers and twists. However, most classes manage only stretches either standing, supine or prone with some twists thrown in. But yoga is incomplete without inversions, core strengthening poses and challenging balancers either on the arms, or even standing. While inversions give the anti-aging benefit, balancers actually act on a very powerful raja (mind) yoga aspect. Balancers involve the cerebellum, an ancient and animalistic part of the nervous system. It is also engaged with impulse control, reflexive actions, memory, cognitive learning amongst other special skills. Much about the cerebellum is still getting unravelled, but it is clear that it is engaged in a lot of what defines our personality and that to work on it, through balancers, is how yoga actually helps to develop our mental focus, and impulse control. To neglect this would be to neglect a core aspect of yoga philosophy itself. Theorising about it, as has become a habit, would not be the same as making a biological change, from within. In yoga much of mental conditionings that harm us and that come from our past are actually changed by “micro-surgery” induced by asana practice. It is silly to divide yoga philosophy from the asana practice because the latter is making powerful changes in the nervous system. Again, the poses which require power in yoga should not be neglected because they create a superior strength and stamina. In challenging poses (like balancers), the bones are challenged in a positive fashion. Unless bones experience this subtle challenge during practice, they will not be become dense, which is how a healthy bone must be. A denser bone create more blood cells. This is the only way to create pure health from within. The idea of 84 lakh poses may be an exaggeration (or is it?). However, that should be a prod to keep on upping the ante in the practice, so one reaps the pure health and strength they promise. About the author: Shameem Akthar has trained as Yoga Acharya with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, Kerala, and is a master-trainer in neuro-linguistic psychology. Her email firstname.lastname@example.org website is http://jaisivananda.blogspot.com
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