I've been thinking about my practice in strong conjunction with a chapter I read last night in Donna Farhi’s book, Bringing Yoga to Life. This isn't my first rodeo in yoga immersion. Just after my yoga initiation, I drenched myself in Bikram Yoga, and practiced for 40 days straight.
I was brought to yoga by searing pain in my low back and hips. Sitting, walking and lying down sucked. I was in pain. At the end of my rope, I went to yoga. The first class was a little iffy. I wasn't quite sure what I had gotten myself into, but I knew I felt better than when I got there so I kept it up.
Yoga is expensive if you want to practice in a studio with regularity. I worked out a trade. Then I signed up for teacher training. I taught about two classes per week for a couple years.
My personal latch to the garden of spirituality offered by the practice of asana was easily lifted. The hunger and thirst for more, beyond the standard script of a 90-minute Bikram class, was powerful. My appetite is still growing. It's possible that this transition from less physical and more mental has gotten me to this current place of conflict.
There is still a part of me that enjoys getting a rigorous workout on my mat. As the yogis say: 'You cannot make the great transformation of steel into a sword without the help of fire.' I'm ambivalent because it seems there's an exorbitant focus on conquering advanced postures.
Through advertisements for workshops at the local studio or in media representations of yoga, all of the featured yogis are doing very complicated postures. Without preparation or instruction they could do real damage. The overarching theme in a yoga classes seems to be: Master the flashiest, most gasp inducing asana in the room. We may have a recipe for disaster.
The casual practitioner sees that there are poses requiring intense strength and stamina. The element of study gets glossed over in the suggestion that each pose is something to be conquered instead of respected.
Anyone with a good center of balance and upper body strength can land in a handstand, but the intricacies of the buoyancy of hands, the spread of the collar bone, the rooting support of the shoulder blades, the engagement of the bandhas to increase lift and pull in floater ribs, the spiraling of the inner leg and the flexion of the feet may fall by the wayside.
I liken it to listening to a radio full of static. There are bits that come through, but most of it is just white noise.
Yoga is great. I will never deny that. There's a yoga for every body. I'm compelled to disassociate with the diet yoga, that in my opinion, is appealing to the masses. I appreciate the concept of constant challenge and building confidence through asana, but I think that a compensating increase in mindfulness could offer supportive hands to encourage a whole practice.
There are some who will never come close to tasting the Kool-Aid and some that need to be weaned off of it. It seems that finding the balance is where the essential challenge lies. One cannot sustain a life of 120 miles per hour forever. It is fun and exhilarating to race around the track, but there is as much if not more bliss to be found in the stillness and silence.
It's scary to go inside yourself, but hell, if eka pada galavasana (flying pigeon) is a common fright, how bad can the dragons be?