Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Depth of Practice

As you may be aware, I have been teaching hatha yoga for more than 15 years. When I first started my own practice, I was very intent upon attainment and achievement. As I have aged, and through my experience as a teacher, I have profoundly changed this attitude. Now I am constantly reminding my students not to push themselves to try to break through to some new level. My suggestion, instead, is to go as far as they can comfortably, then hang out there for a while. Paradoxically, they will be able to move through to attain their goals more efficiently and easily in this way, rather than from pushing or straining. And with fewer injuries.

The primary focus of this kind of practice is awareness of each posture or movement as fully as possible, thereby deepening into the posture or movement more completely. Even the simplest posture, such as Child's Pose (Balasana), when practiced with mindfulness, can become a place of deep insight as well as great physical benefit. My point is this: if you can't experience Child's Pose fully while you are doing it, how will you expect to experience the deep insights of a difficult posture, such as Triang Mukha Eka Pada Paschimottanasana (which is not that difficult, by the way, but it has one of the longest names of any posture so I like to use it as an example)?

Simply put, the depth of your yoga practice has no relationship whatsoever with the difficulty of the postures you do. So when you see workshops or retreats that promise to help you "deepen your practice," find out if they refer to the physical dimension of yoga, or the depth of inner awareness. In my opinion, the latter exploration is a much more rewarding, and potentially less injurious.


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