By Shameem Akhtar
If the timid must learn to harness the forces of gravity to stay young, the aggressive must learn to harness the mind.
It is interesting to get intimate with the concept of resistance through a regular yoga sadhana. I find there are two sets of yoga practitioners – one is timid, overwhelmed by the resistance that yoga uses as an instrument. The other is aggressive, thrilling to the challenges of this resistance. Not surprisingly, even schools of yoga swing between both these extremes, each one sniffing at the other’s proclivity towards a timid or aggressive practice.
The timid ones miss the point of this resistance, scampering off from a regular practice, offering various excuses that their body and mind throws up. The aggressive ones, intoxicated by their ‘success’ with their poses, become amnesiac over the purpose of yoga, which is to break all patterns, including the sense of egotistic achievement! Having skidded between both extremes myself, I empathize with both schools of experience. And have come away with the lesson that while it is good to start off with your ‘type of yoga’, it is better to be able to switch between one or the other type of sadhana without fear or favor. A good singer can take on any range or note, throwing the voice at either end of the musical scale. So too must a practitioner be able to switch between a gentle or aggressive practice, after a regular sadhana.
What is this fierce resistance that evokes both fear and thrill? There is a drag of gravity (which gym-based exercises exploit, by extensive use of machines), which is subtle but definite. Yoga uses our own body to play upon this gravitational force, creating a healing resistance. On earth, this gravitational force is 9.8 meters per second. This is what makes our legs quiver like jelly when we push them up in a pose like the locust. This is a force against which all inverted poses work and the reason why it is said the inversions not only keep us young, but also prod us with tremendous spiritual stamina. By working against this natural force of gravity, we create a powerful, healing stamina in our body.
That is also the reason why regular yoga practitioners look far younger than their chronological age. Natural gravity also ages us by its slight drag on our skins, our bones and our blood vessels. In our blood vessels, this gravitational drag tends to pool the blood to the lower extremes. In youth, since these vessels are naturally elastic, the blood flow is not so affected. But with age, compounded with a sedentary lifestyle, this pooling tends to prevent a regular outflow of waste or transport of nutrients, further aging us. In yoga, practically all the poses (except some of the simple pawan mukta asana series) fully exploit this force, by playing against it. This resistance is what the timid ones need to feed back into their bodies, so they remain healthy.
For the aggressive practitioners, the resistance is one of the mind. It refuses to slow down. It seeks entertainment, be it in the aggressive rounds of surya namaskars they punish themselves with, or by pushing themselves beyond severe pain, or by hyper-flexing a joint beyond its capacity. I know of yoga teachers who suffer from piles (from overdoing some poses) or who will skip their pranayama practice just to be able to test their stamina in the headstand! All counterproductive, since here they are not facing up to their mind, being unable to say no to it. Saying no to its flow is the true goal of yoga: yogasch citta vritti nirodah. So, if you can identify your type and move beyond it, you would have learnt to use your body to lead your mind on its path to God.
Lolasana (Swing Pose)
Sit in the classic lotus pose (padmasana), with legs crossed. Place palms on floor, beside the hips. Inhale and exhale a few times. Inhale and push down palms on floor, moving hips off the ground. Hold for a few seconds, and swing a few times. This is a tough pose, which exploits the force of gravity to build strength, and boost respiratory capacity. Limbs become toned. Initially, you may not be able to swing much, but with regular practice you can stay up in the pose for 30 seconds or more, swinging to and fro with gentle but sure strength.
Avoid if having weak wrists or unable to sit in the classic lotus.
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