|[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 93 ]
The Practice of Yoga Postures
There's a lot of debate today about the yoga postures and also how to properly perform them.
There are many asanas being practiced today under the term yoga, and an enormous number of variations on each of those as well. The so-called 'purists' point to various scriptures to substantiate their categorizations, yet within the classic texts of hatha yoga, much vagueness, discrepancy and ambiguity also exists.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes only 15 asanas; the GHERANDA SAMHITA records 32; and the SIVA SAMHITA speaks of 84 lakhs (8,400,000!). Commonly it is considered that there are 84 'classical asanas', of which an enumerable amount of variations have been developed.
There are indeed many benefits from asana practice, and the intent of the practices vary depending on the level of experience of the practitioner and the particular yogic approach.
In certain traditions, the asanas are also used as vehicles for attuning with higher, more subtle energies. Others regard the asanas from the perspective of primarily body cleansing and preparation for higher disciplines.
Modern yogis often simply present yoga poses as a practice for physical and material gratification. Hence, there's much debate over the 'right' way to perform the yoga postures.
If one goes to a typical yoga class today, pretty much anywhere, they will find a teacher leading a class through a series of asana-related exercises. There will probably be some kind of new-age music wafting through the room (an external distraction) and the teacher will be walking around, talking ceaselessly about "moving this body part here" or "that body part there" ... "doing this with your breath" or "noticing this with your mind" (more distraction).
Quite often they put their hands directly on their studentss to adjust their bodies' positions in this way or that (the ultimate distraction!). I have seen firsthand, on many occasions, teachers of a certain modern school of yoga who make it a practice to even hit their students to get them to adjust their body positions!
When someone touches a person within an asana, no matter how gently or unassumingly, this presents not only an external distraction (remember the dwandwas I talked about in a previous article?), but interferes with the subtle energetics within the pose, suggesting that they (the teacher) know little of the practice of asana beyond a purely physical form of exercise.
The typical scene of a modern yoga class itself actually suggests little understanding of the profound purpose of asana, and provides little of benefit beyond certain physical aspects of the practice.
As a result, the average person today 'doing yoga' has been programmed by these experiences to expect this behaviour from their teacher, and assumes it to be a necessity in their practice. I have many people insists that they need to have a teacher beside them, to "correct" their posture or to make sure that they are performing things correctly.
I tell you that yoga is 99% awareness! The physical practices, such as the asanas are primary tools for developing just that. If someone always walks over to you to correct your shoulder position or your arm placement or whatever, then you will never develop the ability to know what you are doing with your body yourself.
It makes little difference whether your arm is 5 degrees this way or 5 degrees that way, if you yourself are not developing awareness of your body and your mental activity, which is a purely internal process. It is that which is happening inside which is of utmost importance in the practice, and I cannot walk up to you and adjust what is happening inside you!
But, as a yoga teacher, I should be guiding you through the process of creating that greater, subtle awareness...
NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.
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... It is indeed a masterful work."
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