Does your yoga practice have a soul

Over the years I have seen many people rediscovering the ancient system of yoga. It has become a trend across the world today and everyone does yoga. But what I have realised in a very brief span of time, is that people’s practice is very shallow. I’m not talking about their understanding of the system of yoga or its deep and enlightening concepts. I am talking about the mere practicing of asanas. I feel like most people’s practice lacks a soul. I am not being judgemental here. This observation is purely based on facts. I’ve observed my students- the regular ones, the irregular ones, the ones that quit when things got harder, the ones that quit even before it started. I compared this category of students to the ones that have stayed the course and have really bettered themselves. There is only one major difference between them. The first bunch merely looked at yoga as a physical activity. The second  set, however, pushed their limits and deepened their understanding of their own bodies and turned it into a spiritual relationship. That made all the difference. Confused?? Let me explain.

When I see students practice asanas like empty vessels rolling on the floor, it makes a little sad. Yoga has become synonymous with twisty and bendy postures. People practice yoga as a physical exercise. Many fancy yoga schools lay emphasis on stretching a muscle group or elongating the spine but do not share what deeper benefits can be reaped through stretching , lengthening or engaging any part of the physical body.

For example, in kurmasana-the tortoise pose, flattening the body to the ground with the hands below one’s thighs can be very challenging. It isn’t so much about a flexible hamstring and a fluidic pelvis as it is about withdrawing ones senses and focusing on the self as we challenge ourselves to stay  in that posture. Take chakrasana too. The backbend is so full and deep that it stretches the abdomen and pushes the spine up towards the navel. The kind of internal space this bend creates, will help energy traverse from the lowest chakra to the highest chakra along the spine. So the name chakrasana is as much about the wheel shape it creates as it is about the rise of energy through the chakras of the body. Anjaneyasana works on the Mooladhara chakra and swadisthana chakra which hold a lot of our fears, anxieties and worries. It is one of the reasons why a very low lunge, exposing the perineum area, is very challenging for most beginners. There are so many more examples of how every asana is a means to still the mind and look inwards.

Even as aspiring yogis, our knowledge of this ancient system is very limited. There is so much that we are learning and imbibing into our practice. The end goal of practicing any asana, pranayama, bandha, or mudra, is to maintain good health in the body so that the mind can be stilled and quietened. Dharana and Dhyana are the end goal for most of us. We are, as aspirant yogis, trying to fit yamas, niyamas, pratyahara etc into our physical practice. We are learning control and withdrawal from distractions, while practicing personal and societal mandates of living well. We try to incorporate these into physical practice;  because it all starts there, with a mindful physical practice of asanas.

Here is what you could do-

  • Be more involved while learning each asana. Know that you are not performing aerobic exercises.
  • Respect the process and flow. It isn’t about perfecting the final position alone, it is about the journey. How you get there is of value too.
  • Be cognizant of what muscles you move, what is the extent to which you can comfortably move, where you face resistance in any asana.
  • Stay aware of your breathe at all times.
  • Do not be in a hurry to learn specific asanas just to tick it off your list. This isn’t a race, it is a journey and a destination.
  • Practice every day.
  • Do more pranayama, cleansing kriyas, and meditation.
  • Eliminate inner noise and enjoy the stillness and inner silence.

On a side note, follow @actiohiro and @yogawithbriohny for a better understanding of the connection between physical and physiological. Check out @davidgarriguesyoga, @jogmihir, and @yogicstudies  on instagram for a connect between physical and spiritual. Keep that practice soulful and stay involved.

Published by Nitya Neelakantan

Yoga teacher, writer, dog mom!

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