There are many styles of Yoga and even within the same school each teacher develops her own style. Each offers opportunities for bodily, emotional and spiritual insight and all have the same point in common: holding a posture passively. As the student becomes more proficient in her practice the period of holding increases allowing the muscles, ligaments, joints, bones, organs and connective tissues to lengthen and become flexible.
While a more active Yoga style calls upon strength and stamina, holding a posture allows the body space to do its work. Connective tissues do not respond to quick movements or short holds, rather they require patience and a slow steady pull. By improving stretching we open up our energetic channels, unblock obstructions and clear stagnation, the breeding ground for disease.
On your mat it may look like you are not doing much but there is intense activity going on inside your body as well as in your mind. Frantic thoughts might be racing through your mind: mental list making, doubts about the practice and a constant struggle dealing with discomfort. In holding a pose we have a profound meditative opportunity to move past our countless distractions and surrender to the present moment: the breath, the stretch, the twist… resisting constant shifting and looking at our discomfort. Gently recognizing our aches (not our pain which should be avoided right away!) and accepting them as they come and go. And as we hold the posture patiently, we settle into it, our breath becomes calmer and balanced, our muscles relax and our mind becomes spacious.
This approach to Yoga helps us then to acclimate the body and mind to meditation. By paying attention to where and when we feel movement or stillness, effort and rest, heat and cold, we become more in tune with our energy, how to replenish or use it and how to detect stagnation or over stimulation. Understanding these fluctuations and acting skilfully to restore balance in our body and mind will help us achieve greater wellness. But the ultimate benefit of concentration is to be aware of any inner or outer movement – pleasant or unpleasant, comfortable or uncomfortable – in order to acknowledge and accept it in a non-judgemental space. It’s only when the doer becomes the witness that he spontaneously knows what action to take. Then he lives in Yoga and as the Zen masters say, “he can walk into the market place”.
“Barechested, barefoot, he comes into the marketplace. Muddied and dust-covered, how broadly he grins.” (The 10 ox-herding pictures)