Exploration of balance in the week’s classes was planned around the foot as a stable foundation for movement but what evolved was a somewhat “preachy” investigation of our collective understanding of yoga and what inspires us to attend yoga classes.
Thus, to some extent it was a week of looking at the basics tenets of support::
” Asana (/ˈɑːsənə/; listen आसन āsana [ˈɑːsənə] ‘sitting down’, < आस ās ‘to sit down’. The word asana in Sanskrit does appear in many contexts denoting a static physical position, although traditional usage is practice of yoga.
We know that early texts record no standing poses, rather seated positions intended to prepare the body for seated reflection. Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras (4-2nd century BC) does not mention a single asana by name, rather specifying that a good asana must be steady and stable
Right poise must be firm and without strain
This does not come about without effort, of course, but the effort should reflect a subtle intelligence rooted in an understanding of how yoga practice can help us to make positive changes to our lives, rather than bind us to the notion of yoga practice being a performance.
Leslie Kaminoff, co-author of Yoga Anatomy, in a workshop environment, discusses striving for the “unbridled quest for unlimited flexibility“. He describes asana practice as providing a helpful mirror to enable us to ask ourselves useful questions that might help us to balance the body so that we can have the “range of motion to do what we need to do in life.” Achieving a balance between flexibility and strength, aspiration and effort is clearly stated in the Sutras:
Aspiration without effort brings weakness; effort without aspiration brings a false strength, not resting on enduring things. The two together make for the right poise which sets the spiritual man firmly and steadfastly on his feet.
Many of the standing poses now practised in yoga classes owe their popularity to the modernizing influence of Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), who developed a dynamic yoga practice. One of his students, B K S Iyengar produced a, now classic practice handbook Light on Yoga (1966).
Iyengar yoga classes that I have attended, seem to demand the achievement of a certain shape and I understand that if this shape is held steadily and with ease, the entire body is nourished. This is an obvious interpretation of Pantajali’s Sutras (2.46-2.48) Yet, listening to an interview with B K Iyengar in his 90th year, he stresses the importance of enquiry in his yoga practice. He says that “sweat” from the physical body is not enough; that we have to “sweat intellectually“. He also states that in “good yoga practice…the nerves are completely cleansed…”. This interview was a revelation to me since the Iyengar teaching that I received (albeit some time ago), did not encourage me to listen to my body; rather to ignore it and to maintain an asana as a point of discipline.
Yoga practice as a performance driven by shape can, I think,, lead to injury. I have to confess to this myself . Thus, I listened with interest to a Radio 4 programme aired on 28th March, A Dancer Dies Twice. Dancers spoke about the difficulties they faced when coming to the end of their careers and their evaluation of their performing years. One, said that before the age of 9 she danced to music by listening. She then began to practice with a mirror ..”checking lines..shaping lines..” and that this led her to “find faults all the time”. For her, the mirror promoted insecurity and she used this insecurity to drive herself towards better performance. Another spoke of aid that a hip injury forced her to “let go of that ideal of perfection..” She refers to the “war I would have with myself..” and that the “letting go” means that she struggles less with movement now.
These thoughts and ideas fill my previous posts Intelligent Movement and Your Body Speaks its Mind – Stanley Keleman . I continue to question my teaching and to encourage my students to do so as well. A very broad definition of “yoga” as “union”, “connection”, ” balance” of mind and body, encompasses many different approaches to the physical practice. By placing enquiry and noticing how we feel when we practice, we foster great compassion to ourselves and, hopefully, to others.
I will explore the foot as a stable base for grounded practice in this week’s classes and in the next blog.