“When you hold a pose for long enough for it to feel a bit uncomfortable, you’re building muscle strength”, says a Yoga Journal blogger.
She adds “You’re also building strength of mind by showing yourself that you’re stronger than you think you are”
I don’t even know where to begin in pointing out how wrong this is and on so many levels. It’s misleading, it’s dangerous and it’s against everything Patanjali says in YogaSutras. (for more on Patanjali read our blog on ‘sthir sukham asanam’). This kind of well meaning sincerity is dangerous in how misguided it is.
Holding a pose when you are uncomfortable is not going to build muscle strength or mental beliefs about your strength, it will make you stop going to Yoga class. You start dreading the class as it becomes yet another hurdle to climb in your daily grind. And that is not the point of Yoga.
When you hold a pose to discomfort, who decides how much discomfort is good enough for your growth? The teacher? You? She doesn’t know what’s happening inside your body. Especially when she’s done a 6-month yoga teacher training course at the local studio down the street. You could be putting yourself way out than needed.
As soon as I suggest that you don’t push, notice how you go into red alert! “But how will I progress if I keep staying where it is comfortable?” What “progress” are you looking for? For that, you need to first go into your very definition of progress where yoga is concerned. You want external progress in your physical posture, that’s why you and your teacher is scared to let you be and just breathe.
But try it once. Be in the pose where you are comfortable. And bring your mind again and again to your breath. You will see that going further in the physical pose will be one of the many by products of the many other benefits you will derive.
Practiced correctly, Yoga teaches you a philosophy of life that will bring you happiness in the long run. Changes will happen in your personality automatically. For e.g. you might start accepting people and situations as they are and yet be dynamic and put your hundred percent into everything. If you are not seeing deep personality changes that are happening despite yourself, then you are not doing Yoga.
Most teachers have not had this personal transformation and hence bring their status quo mentality into the yoga practice. They want to see results from the perspective of the material-external- centered mind, and will keep pushing you in the yoga class like you would in a fitness bootcamp. That, my dear, is not Yoga. And you will not derive the deeper benefits that come with the union of mind, body, spirit which is Yoga.
Yoga is not another notch to put on your belt of achievements. Yoga is a haven. A place of respite from the unrealistic standards of achievement we impose upon ourselves. A sort of, self-torturing mentality has been brought to the practice of yoga by well meaning but misguided teachers of Yoga. They are young and really want to help. But they are only perpetuating the very mental status quo that has caused the stress in the first place.
In the Yoga Journal article quoted above, the author goes on to tell us how to make a boring practice interesting.
Firstly, yoga is not about entertainment. The tendency of the mind to be constantly seeking entertainment is what is to be gently transmuted through yoga practice. So when she suggests trying to make your practice different to get different results it’s not Yoga but rather what a personal trainer at a 24 hr. fitness would say.
Even worse is when she goes on to suggest “making little adjustments to the way you practice will make a huge difference. Little changes like lengthening your tailbone toward the floor, lifting your chest toward the sky, or firming your leg muscles and lifting your kneecaps can work a whole new set of muscles and help you get closer to a more challenging variation”
Newsflash: These are not changes, these are things inherent in poses. Things where your mind should be focusing on in the first place. Also, you are not looking for ‘challenging variations’. That is another western concept. In the east, where yoga comes from, you are supposed to follow those who came before you and perfect what they teach you. Putting your own variation on an ancient, age-old practice to get variety is very arrogant.
Rather than the arrogance of creating variations, first you perfect the humility in yourself and in the postures by perfecting and respecting what the masters of the tradition have handed down to you. Who are you to be creating challenging variations to work new sets of muscles. Do you know how Yoga was cognized? Do you know how the Rishis (seers) saw this knowledge in deep meditation 5000 years ago? And now some teacher with 140 hrs of teacher training from the local ‘bodhi tree’ yoga studio is going to create “challenging variations”. Please don’t mess with Yoga. It is powerful and can work to harm your body rather than help.
What’s really bad is that this blogger is not the only one who thinks this way. She only echoes the way Yoga is being thought of and practiced in America.
Just another way to perpetuate the instant gratification, entertainment-oriented, fast paced culture that causes mental unrest in the first place.
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