Yoga is weird. I mean, let’s face it, the physical practice of asana can be odd and disorienting. Most of what we ask of students in a yoga class is outside the realm of “typical” physical activity, even among the simplest of poses. And the more “exciting” poses might make good photos for Instagram, but other than that, what is the point?
A student asked the other day “why” we would ever want to drop our feet backwards to the floor from a shoulder stand position. I think it is a great question. Non-practitioners, and even many that practice yoga still wonder about the “why” of much of it. Why do we do certain poses? Why do we use props? Why do we ask for certain actions and alignment in Iyengar Yoga specifically? Why indeed?
The first challenge is to look at a yoga pose not as a goal to accomplish or a thing just “to do.” The practice of a pose is an experience, a learning process to gain knowledge of your Self at every layer – body, mind, and emotion. In Iyengar Yoga specifically this shows up almost instantly.
From the first class, I can see the struggle for even the most athletic new student to “turn the thigh out” in Trikonasana (triangle pose). We hear that simple physical instruction, we “think” we have done it, but have we? And then when the teacher corrects or adjusts us how do we feel? Maybe they even bring a prop to help, but that makes us stand out, and then how do we react? This process is not set up to “just do a pose” and move on, otherwise we are only feeding a goal oriented ego. Through each yoga pose we are able to create an experience and gain knowledge – of our physical being for sure, but also of our emotional and mental reactions to how our “being” moves within the space around us.
Once a basic foundation of knowledge and awareness is built with the more simple movements and some basic obstacles have been conquered, more complexity can be dealt with. Drop-overs, for example, bring up deeper more “interesting” obstacles – fear, doubt, confusion. Dropping into the unknown, unable to “see” where you are going or know what is going to happen is not something we often choose to do in life, so why in yoga?
And now I might ask “why not?” Yoga class, especially an Iyengar Yoga class that is designed to be safe and full of variations for every person, is a controlled environment. Within a well instructed and guided pose you may come face-to-face with fear, proceed step-by-step, and come to understand the body, mind and emotions when faced with the unknown. Building strength and confidence in a situation you may not usually choose for yourself gives you experience for the “real world.” The next time you face a fear or unknown situation in life you might have more stability, confidence, and understanding to carry through and not shrink away.
THIS is the “ultimate freedom” which yoga promises. To just stand on your head, push up into a back bend, or stand on your hands “because you can” misses the whole point. The varied experiences that the myriad of yoga poses give makes you work through and adjust the body, mind, and emotions in all sorts of ways. To find mental and emotional stability in that which is easy as well as that which is hard, that which is pleasurable and that which is painful, is the process of yoga.
The actual pose is not the point. Just be open to the process – the joys of achievement AND the frustrations and confusions of each obstacle. Be curious of all that is presented instead of building barricades to that which you assume you cannot or will not do. And when a question or reaction arises, ask your own Self “why” to find the answers from within.