My niece, Haley, was about six when Wendy and I sat with her to have tea one vacation day in Dewey Beach. We all had cups of tea and we each added sugar. Haley stirred her tea for a long time after Wendy and I had laid down our spoons. When I asked her what she was doing, she proudly explained her logic, “My mom said, the more you stir it, the sweeter it gets.”
I think a lot of people who practice yoga, including many teachers, suffer from this same limited kind of logic.
We see the physical result but are confused about the cause.
Then we mistakenly think that the result is what we are going for. In yoga, this leads to two faulty sets of actions:
- Asana done for the wrong reason; and
- Asana done incorrectly, because someone else did it that way.
1. Asana done for the wrong reason
Let’s take number 1. If you presume asana is like stirring the tea, then you just do a sequence because it moves you. It’s obvious, it’s what you see when a yoga master practices. But like my sweet niece, who didn’t understand that the sugar completely dissolved during the first few stirs of the tea, the yoga practitioner who has not grasped the nature of what we’re doing thinks the yoga master is simply doing a sequence of postures.
At ISHTA Yoga, we study to experience the whole nature of things, as they have been described by yogis for millennia and are being similarly described by physicists today: we are energy, combining and manifesting in ways that our senses perceive and our minds describe. Asana is a movement of energy in the body to create a shift in energy. It may provide health, ease of sitting, or balance to allow a meditation where the mind goes still enough to experience personally what the yoga writings (and physicists) say, which is that the universe goes back and forth from multiplicity to singularity.
To say, ‘I don’t care about those esoteric things; I just do yoga for my body,’ is like Haley continuing to insist, now at age 19 that the tea gets sweeter the more you stir it (she laughed when I told her the story last month). It’s ignoring what’s going on in fact.
2. Asana done incorrectly
Looking from both a purely physical and an energetic place, an asana can have one affect on one practitioner and a different effect on another. The difference can be subtle, as in making one person more grounded and another more obsessively striving (which reads on devices like blood pressure gauges); or it can be overt, as when it helps one person stretch the piraformus while causing another to tear the anterior cruciate ligament (potential results of pigeon pose).
We need to move beyond thinking of asana as only having its own value. We say things like it’s a meditation in motion, or it reverses the aging process or it overcomes fear, or it builds discipline. But every time we do asana, it moves prana in our system, it affects the headquarters of that prana in the chakras, it influences the physical, emotional, nervous, and other subtle systems that make us up — and it moves the body.
And that’s why it’s sweeter.
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