Mindful awareness

Monday, October 25, 2010

Steady Attention and Maintain Comfort

Yoga is about process, not outcome. But if there were to be goals in asana practice, they would be to steady one’s attention (sthira) and to remain comfortable (sukha) in the pose.  These qualities are what make yoga practice challenging and rewarding. Some poses are easier for some people than others. But every yogi can identify particularly challenging poses. Some of my students find savasana (deep relaxation pose) most challenging because quiet and total stillness is difficult and uncomfortable for them. Other students find eka pada rajakapotasana (pigeon pose variation) most difficult and uncomfortable because sitting so many hours in the day tightens the muscles around their hips and pelvis.

Often students seek classes that quickly move them from one pose to another. This might be right for their bodies some days. But it also helps them to avoid the hard work of settling into a pose and finding stillness there. I can’t help but wonder if these students are unconsciously avoiding the hard asana work of steady attention and maintained comfort while holding poses. It is in holding poses that yogis will be rewarded. Any action that is difficult brings greater rewards.

My role as their instructor is to create an encouraging and safe environment. Sometimes it means encouraging students to soften. In eka pada rajakapotasana I encourage students to breathe long, steady breaths to still their minds and soften the muscles around their groin and hips. Sometimes it means encouraging students to use props. Using props is a good thing in that they help students to attain sthira and sukha, providing students with greatest benefit from their practice. A blanket or block under the front hip in eka pada rajakapotasana may help the student to hold the position more comfortably, in turn helping her to sustain her attention rather than fidgeting to try to avoid the deep hip rotation that it requires.

There are no shortcuts in yoga practice. Reaping the true benefits of asana practice, steady attention and maintained comfort, requires settling into the poses. The discomfort can be assuaged by extending the breath and using props. But avoiding the hard work is never the answer.

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