Yoga asana, physical practice, is a rare creature that has held my attention since I first encountered it. I get bored and lose interest in plenty of pursuits, but even though my energy and enthusiasm doesn't remain consistent, I do my best to stay attentive to practicing yoga.
Certain aspects of yoga feel more approachable than others. For example, I feel very motivated to practice the yamas, or behavioral considerations with others and niyamas, or ways of restraining my own behavior. I'm drawn to these behavioral aspects because I am a hot mess and I want to be in less conflict with myself and those around me. I'm really grateful that these prescriptions exist and that their application helps me be calmer and more closely aligned with those in my midst.
I'm significantly less motivated to practice meditation and even the asana always feels challenging to me. I'm not a person who is naturally adept at the physical practice. Some say this is at least in part attributed to past karmas, or past actions. These would be karmas I've created since birth as well as past lives, if you buy that. I kind of get this in a material way. I descend from a number of WASPs. Those folks aren't known for expansive movement. They tend to waltz or maybe do the Charleston. My Dad is incredibly tight and stiff. His Dad was incredibly tight and stiff. These are karmas. Remember-- karmas aren't necessarily good or bad, they just are. I descend from tight folks and as such, I'm tight. It's not a sentence, but it is a reality.
In time, I am finding more mobility and it feels great. This is also an opportunity in any incarnation-- to move through past karmas and feel less bound by them.
Certain asanas still feel truly elusive. I spoke to a friend and student recently who talks often to his colleagues about "doing the set-up." This refers back to the time he spent setting up for sirsasana, or headstand, without any real belief that he'd ever ascend into the inversion. As the teacher instructed, he continued to press into his elbows and wrists, pull his shoulders from his ears, and engage his core. He now practices sirsasana regularly, but the full expression of the pose came as a surprise. He did the set-up and released the fruits of his actions. I don't know if he knows this, but he arrived at a very central instruction from The Bhagavad Gita.
There are so many poses in my own practice where I can only do the set-up and do my best to release expectation. I thought the other day about how many years I've remained unable to reach poses that so many find without struggle. And then I thought about how impatient I am. I am incredibly impatient. My Dad is incredibly impatient. Recall the karmas? Maybe I am being motivated to stay engaged in the practice, but kept grounded, in part as a practice in patience. Maybe it's not about the asana. Maybe it's about my own ability to be present.
Kevin heard an interview recently with a yogini who feels the physical emphasis on the practice is misleading. She advised students to practice asana until they felt calmer and at that time direct more of their energies towards meditation and other limbs of yoga. She said that in some ways these limbs are all portals. If we get stuck being obsessed with the body, we won't integrate other aspects of yoga. We'll self-defeat in a way, though no effort is wasted. It just probably means another cycle around the karmic wheel to then extricate from the over-involvement with the material.
This feels really self-affirming to me. "I'm so highly evolved! I can't do a lot of the physical so aren't I better as I focus elsewhere!" But completely untrue. I aspire to an understanding offered by Kevin's yogini. In reality, my struggles with asana are multi-dimensional. They keep me interested in asana but also interested in other limbs where I feel more adept. I do hear what this teacher said, as told to me by Kevin. This yogini (and I refer to her as this because he couldn't remember her name) said that as we progress spiritually, our energy is needed. Strenuous physical exertion is at times a misapplication of our energies.
Again, I'm far from there. I should still safely sweat. Not even that settled down. Asana serves.
I see her point though. The teachers that I often turn to-- Radhanath Swami, Ram Dass, Krishna Das-- they don't practice a lot of asana. I think they're perfectly capable! Radhanath Swami said his sirsasana is pretty steady! But their energies are turned in a different direction. They move, walk, swim, and engage but they don't need to do advanced contortionist asana.
I'm grateful for the path of this practice and how it can engage each of us wherever we are. For now, I will continue to sweat and strive and attempt to release expectation. I'll work on being, whether it's upside down or seated quite still.