The Path To Bodhichitta

You start where you are, the practice will meet you there.

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Friday, February 15, 2008

From Here To There

Yet another issue has cropped up in my practicing the seated sequence - the lack of alignment.

In between trying to jump back without crashing and keeping my ragged breath steady, there is no room to check if both my shoulders are parallel or if my back in rounded. In fact, just as I get a sliver of comfort in the asana, it's time get start moving again. Furthermore, ashtanga doesn't offer a platter of modifications for each asana. Can't reach yoru feet in paschimottanasana without rounding your back? Then round it and do it anyway. As a hatha practitioner, this bothered me greatly.

It isn't in my yoga DNA to move through asanas without immersing myself deeply in each one. Alignment is crucial to me and when I was still teaching, I would refuse to allow a student with bad knees to sit in virasana without sitting on a pillow. I am a firm believer that a body should be moulded into an asana rather than forced into it. So as my back rounded, chest caved in and knees popped up in a few of the seated asanas, my dissatisfaction grew.

I called The Teacher for advise and this is what he said:

"You must first understand the philosophy behing ashtanga. It is not to create flow like vinyasa or perfect alignment like iyengar, but to retain heat in the body. If you cannot accept that and find peace in this style, then perhaps it is not for you."

But I have grown to love ashtanga for everything else it offers. Yet sometimes I felt like I was doing the asana for the sake of doing the asana and thus, diluting the essence of yoga. The Teacher disagreed immediately.

"The ultimate aim of yoga is to reach the Truth. Nothing to do with asanas. You cannot document yoga like that. Each style has its own beauty and flaws. But yoga is personal and you must find what works for you. Yes, each style has its guiding principles but it's only meant as that - a guide. Don't confine yourself to something that you know doesn't resonate with you. I am from the iyengar school, yet my personal style is a blend of iyengar-vinyasa. Another teacher I know teaches hatha-ashtanga. The essence of yoga cannot be diluted merely through asana, as asana is only one way towards realising the Truth."

So if I want to move deeper into a pose, I can hold it for 8 breaths instead of 5?

"Yes. Ashtanga purists may dispute this, but if you cannot find a connection between your body and your mind during your practice then you have to do one of two things: find a way to get that connection or try a different style."

That suits me fine. I still practice according to the ashtanga guidelines, but I slow down and take my time moving into challenging asanas so I am a little more aware of my alignment. And during my hatha practice, I spend a little more time refining those asanas so that my body knows exactly how to move into them during my ashtanga practice.

What really got me was The Teacher's reminder that the purpose of yoga is ultimately to realise the Truth and not about which style we're practicing or how perfect our handstand is.

We forget that sometimes.


Blogger All Action Man said...

I will share with you a story told to me by John. John Scott that is. From the horse's mouth ok?

"When I first went to Guruji's shala in the early 80s , there were only 8 students. 3 months later, there were only 4 of us. Guruji was with us at almost every asana. He insists, "take toes!!" in Padangusthasana. But I protest - "I cannot straighten my knees!". Guruji yells at me "Take Toes!!!". and so I grab my toes. It did not matter that my knees were bent or my back was rounded. Over time, my knees straightened. but the important lesson i learnt was that in taking my toes, i started to be comfortable with putting weight in my hands. Long after the knees had straightened and the back had stopped rounding, the learning of being in my hands gave me a steady foundation for future arm poses and handstands."

And so, my dear, first rule - sthiram sukanam asanam. That's the benchmark of a "perfect" asana. Nowhere does it say alignment.

When Guruji says "Take Toes" - he knows what he's doing. Forget the rounded back, and take the goddamned toes!!...As Shere Khan says, "Trust in meee..., follow me...." :-)

btw, i'm signing in under my alter ego, nom de plume - you can see that was one side of me in 2006 - brought out through the cleansing process of the 2nd series.

1:05 AM  
Blogger starlight said...

Ah, Mr. Patanjai's words - sthiram sukanam asanam. You're right. My practice is sometimes the exact opposite! And yes, no where does it say alignment but it's a hard habit to break when you've been brought up in the Iyengar style. :) Thank you very much for sharing that story! I will remember it the next time I'm dismayed at my bent knees and rounded back. And I sure look forward to the day when I can rest comfortably in each asana!

4:43 AM  

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