By Shameem Akhtar
Only through the mind’s surrender will the body find its flexibility.
It has been said ad nauseum that yoga uses the body to understand the mind. But this is a lesson that bears repetition. For even advanced practitioners fail to learn through the alphabet of their bodies and the language of their pain.
I have often watched people struggling with a pose, frustrated and unable to understand why it is that the promised flexibility that is assured with practice eludes them. It is really a simple but subtle lesson that I continue to learn, even today and every day, in my sadhana.
Take the simple forward bend, also called the classic paschimottanasana, for instance. For a beginner, the high point in his yoga practice is when he can touch his toes, and then, with difficulty, join his head to his knees. Not many people realize that the pain arises because of the mind’s resistance. When you reach out, already the mind, in its eagerness to achieve and taste the future of achievement, has started its maya jaal that forgoes the present.
When this happens, the body responds with a contraction which is counter-productive and stops you short of the physical goal. Instead, do this pose by engaging your mind. First, reach out to the feet with your hands. Then just stop trying. Do not struggle. But hang your head down in complete surrender. Watch the soft pulls and prods that the body is experiencing. Feel the acute pain that some muscles are experiencing. Do not try. Do not do. Just be. Then, suddenly and miraculously, the body will on its own slide into the pose. This is the miracle of yoga, the moment when the mind and body consummate their oneness. There is no struggle, but a loving acceptance. It is a celebration that vaults the physicality of the pose to take you that one precious millimeter closer to the divine.
This sense of surrender is particularly relevant in all advanced asanas. Take the challenging crane or bakasana or the sirsasana or headstand. Here too, fear can make you fall! But when you accept the fear, the body sets it aside and allows the mind to guide you into the pose. The fear of falling creates such a powerful resistance within that the muscles respond with a contracted effort that no doubt accounts for all those yoga-related injuries that are avoidable if yoga is approached with the mind.
I have often noticed that struggle can completely affect the flexibility of core parts of the body – the spine feels rod-like, leg muscles create a painful resistance, neck muscles cramp or even freeze. This experience continues to amaze me, because flexibility is not a given. On a bad mood day, I can feel my muscles resisting as if the negative emotion (be it anxiety, anger, guilt or a sense of hurry), has seeped into them, creating a sludge that makes me skitter in my practice. The nadis (energy channels), spoken of so respectfully in yoga, clearly get blocked when emotions are on the overdrive. And this has nothing to do with how advanced or flexible one is. Doing yoga with this sensitive awareness, listening to what the muscles and their resistance have to say about your emotions will expand your consciousness in ways that will be life-transformative, healing and joyous.
Gomukh Asana (Cow face pose)
This is a chest-opener and mood elevator. It is also used to align the left and right sides of our body and mind. It may be done any time for a full-body stretch.
Sit with both legs out. Bend right leg, passing it over left leg. Fold left leg, so the foot rests under right buttock. The folded legs must look like a cow-face, with the feet fanning out on side like its ears. Inhale. Lift right hand. Place right palm on right shoulder blade. Exhale. Pass left hand behind to grasp right hand fingers. Hold for some time, breathing evenly. Relax and repeat for left side.
Avoid if having knee pain. Instead you may do this pose standing or sitting normally. If unable to grasp fingers, hold a kerchief/cloth in between till limb flexibility is achieved.
It is therapeutic in respiratory ailments, diabetes, uro-genital problems, all back problems, including lower back problems. Tones hands and legs. Offers relief in anxiety attacks.
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