1st Element of Yoga Practice

by Perumal Koshy

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Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya the father of modern yoga says, "Teach what is appropriate for an individual". Likewise a yoga student must learn to practice what is appropriate. Learning the appropriate practice is understood through a careful study of yoga science along with a direct experience of practicing over long periods. Comprehending what postures to practice for various conditions of concern from back pains to high blood pressure are just some of many challenges faced by practitioners. Prior to acquiring yogic knowledge a committed beginner will inevitably tap into the 10 elements an advanced practitioner knows to be mindful of.

Understanding the following 10 elements of a yoga practice will connect aspirants to the intuitive hidden aspects of yoga. Practitioners ought to identify the underlying reasons for practicing yoga, learn how to draw the attention inwards, create regularity in practice, undertake joint preparation, understand the core as well as the steps to building strength, avoid contact with pain, learn the stages of healing, 2 reflexes governing asana and diet basics. This leads to a deeper experience of yoga and most importantly injuries are reduced allowing the practice to remain pleasurable.

For our first in a 10 part series on the elements of the practice a committed novice or proficient practitioner needs to identify the underlying reasons for practicing. If new to yoga, then start by asking why the yoga practice is being pursued? Searching for a good looking body?  Did a doctor suggest yoga for a specific problem? Or is there a need to acquire more spirituality and balance in a world that feels fast and cutting?

Focusing on the look of the body will stop short a practitioner’s progression. Directing attention to (Function) over (Form) is a good starting point. In other words, what the physical bodily limits are and how to overcome them (Function) should be the focus and not how the body ought to be looking (Form). Tightening the abs and having a well-toned bottom are not signs of wellness and yoga does not make these a focus. It is unrealistic for many and yoga does not make form a focus. There is also a limit to how far function should be pursued. Many practitioners become mechanical with excessive function oriented focus.

If there is a medical issue to be overcome, then not all yoga postures or sequences are appropriate. Not every posture is correct for everyone especially for those with injuries. For example, those with low back problems may aggravate low back pains with boat postures, plough positions and/or forward bends. Approaching a yoga practice with consideration to chronic pains is unavoidable. A posture that is good for one may be harmful to another. Often times the same posture that would heal becomes damaging when exerted without correct technique. Often yoga is not seen or presented from such a perspective. Beginners dive into yoga without considering their limitations or how to overcome them through a yoga method appropriate for them. Approaching a practice without the correct knowledge creates imbalance and because of this yoga has been wrongly judged in the media on numerous occasions.

“Those who are searching for spirituality are the furthest away from it”, is a wise saying. The act of trying to search in itself creates a disconnect. Spirituality exists within and outside of us. If it exists within, then a place to consider searching first is within. Meditate upon the gross to fine noting the cause that lies behind and then what is behind that is the inner journey. Yoga teaches that before arriving into a position to reap the highest spiritual benefits, work and family responsibilities must be concluded. Yoga practice, during this first half of life, acts as a maintenance and balancing tool. Practice without underlying reasons. If there must be a reason then let it be the sensation of wellness. The student who engrains their practice without thought, making it habitual as eating, is on the correct path. Then the practice of yoga will take over to continue naturally and without force. Practicing with such underlying tones allows growth with yoga to be meditative and safe.

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