This is a question I ask often when I see idle feet, just lying around, not doing their part. I like to think that they know that I mean that yoga poses usually require the whole body get involved and even the tiniest body part has a role to play to bring about the “ease and steadiness” to the pose. Therefore, being more present in the pose will facilitate this ease and steadiness. Or. maybe, they just think that I am weird!
In my experience, yoga asana is more mental than physical. Whilst it is certainly possible to bend a knee without thinking too much about it, what makes yoga yoga is the fact that we pay attention, not to perfect the pose, but to observe and notice how it feels to be in the pose. The ultimate objective of asana is said to be to prepare the body to train the attention. Some would say that this should/can only be done in a sit-down meditation but I beg to differ, there is no reason why we shouldn’t train the attention to be more present in yoga asana and actually and sincerely mean to practice.
The following quote by Ray Long is an example of how our little big-toes go a long way to support our largest muscle, gluteus maximus:
… So how does the anatomy work? Muscles in your big toes support the ligaments and bones that make up your arches. Healthy arches (as opposed to fallen ones) act like shock absorbers, transmitting kinetic forces, or the forces of motion, up through the ankles to the knees and up the kinetic chain of the body, potentially causing issues with alignment, joint health, and muscle strength. For example, weak big-toe flexors, the muscles that bend the toe, may change the strength and effectiveness of your largest glute muscle, gluteus maximus. And the glute max is critical in supporting most poses. For the big-toe muscles to do their job well, protecting your body from impact and instability, they need to be dynamically stable, meaning they should respond to shifts in movement, weight, and balance. … * – Ray Long (M.D) full article
Big toes are important but other toes, too. So, next time instead of looking at the chipped nail polish on your toes or trying to carry your weight with your hands in phalankasana, put your toes to work and observe how that feels. 🙂
I don’t think any particular movement or yoga pose is inherently dangerous, but I do think that certain movements or yoga poses can be dangerous if done carelessly and mindlessly. Each asana is a challenge to contort the body, and therefore the mind, and some more than others. I’ve been reading about the demonisation of salamba sarvangasana (shoulderstand) and salamba sirsasana (supported headstand) for a while now and I fail to understand the particular problem with these poses. Meanwhile, I don’t see anyone talking about the dangers of super deep back bends, arm balances, or nasty twists, not to mention handstands. If anything, I have to scroll through numerous handstand photographs on Instagram or Facebook! But no-one is writing blogs about how they stopped teaching chaturanga dandasana or phalankasana because the shoulders and wrists have to carry a lot of weight and might easily get injured, instead we talk about the ways to perform such poses safely. Although, one obvious reason for this maybe the relative importance the neck and the head compared with the wrists and the shoulders!
For me, the holiday begins on the day of the winter solstice. I can hardly think of any particular day of the year that feels so hopeful like the day after that. Although, it doesn’t get any lighter here at least for another month or so, I reckon that it is almost the first day the spring. I suppose this was how the people of the olden days felt and made a whole celebration around it.
Unfortunately, for most of people, it is not this simple. This time of the year means replacing the burden of work duties with a gnawing sense of an obligation to review the past year and make resolutions to become what they feel is a better person, parent with a better, nicer life as if it is possible to transform into that ideal self over the course of a week or two or overnight, no less.
I would say that life is a continuous flow with a few waterfalls spread throughout, where we ceaselessly chase an ideal self, which seems to get away from us whenever we come closer. The ideal self, the better person, the better parent, the better daughter are unattainable obscure goals; they are almost deliberately designed to be failed at. Instead of forcing the disappointment and guilt of the past and the anxieties, expectations of the future, yoga teaches us the possibility of enjoying the present. This is easier said than done, all the same it is worth the shot. May this be a time where you let go off all expectations and pretences of yourself and just breathe and be.
Recently, I’ve been interviewed for the student magazine of the university here. The interview was about a specific yoga class that I started teaching last year (maybe, more on being interviewed about yoga later).
At some point in this interview, I was asked to give some good reasons why people should do yoga. That was too difficult a question for me to answer. Instead, I told them why I do yoga: to win back (at least some of ) the freedom of movement that, like every human, I am losing as my body gets older and stiffer and to remember the freedom of imagination that we all have as a child but usually forget as we grow up.
I am not naturally flexible or strong and I didn’t start doing yoga until I was almost 36, so my body was already pretty rigid and I was really not very fit. Whatever I am able to do now as a yoga practitioner came with continuous practice. I’ve always seen yoga classes as an opportunity to play. During the classes (and even when I swim, for that matter), I used to imagine myself as a baby elephant: cute but rather clumsy. I am less clumsy now but the image of that baby elephant is still there some of the time. Some of the time because now I can actually focus on what and how I feel instead of how I look like to others and what they might be thinking about me. Therefore, I can now have more fun during the practice, be it on my own at home or my usual yoga class at the shala. Now, I feel that I am free to explore the physical and emotional opportunities. I can tease my fears, for example, my fear of backbends because I know I am just exploring and can stop anytime I choose to. As I surrender myself to play, I feel I am more in charge of what happens when paradoxically I really don’t expect anything particular to happen. I just play and have fun.
When I have rolled my mat away, the whole yoga play is finished – nothing to be reconsidered, nothing to reminisce about or to regret. It was what it was and just that. The feeling of satva, contentment with myself and the world lingers with me the rest of the day.
I recently read an interview with someone who just came back from India*. The interview had a long account of the differences between the Yoga in India and the Yoga in the West. One of the differences mentioned was the habits to do with where people do yoga and what they wear whilst doing it. Needless to say, yogis in India do yoga whereever they like and in what ever they feel comfortable, in stark opposition to where we, in the West do yoga and in what we do yoga.