The Secret of Yoga

Submitted by Dinesh Kashikar

Little Nia scrambled to her feet, as I watched in amusement. All of five years old, she pulled herself into a triangle position and gingerly raised her foot to mimic the Half Moon posture (Ardha Chandrasana). A tumble soon ensued, and she burst out into laughter before she inadvertently closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. Those few seconds were a very poignant revelation; a child remembered what many have forgotten – the true goal of yoga is to go inward.

Yoga has come a long way from the 80s and early 90s, when yoga instructors were relegated to frames of mindless tree postures in the Himalayas. Everyone does, or knows someone who does, yoga. No longer is the warrior pose a hidden mystery; it is fodder for office hallway conversations. As yoga booms, however, it continues to amaze me just how easy it is to forget the basics, the true experience of yoga.

Yoga, as we know it today, owes its existence to the ancient Indian sage Patanjali, who compiled all existing knowledge of yoga into 196 aphorisms or Sutras.

Each Sutra of Patanjali is a universe in itself, much like a koan. And, of these, one of my favorites is Patanjali’s definition of the yoga posture (asana) -“ sthira sukham āsanam’’ (sthira = steady; sukham = comfortable; āsanam = posture) – “That posture which is steady and comfortable is āsana”.

The goal of the Eastern traditions has unmistakably been to help the practitioner relax. This simple Sutra encapsulates that goal. Often, when I ask a participant to keep his or her spine erect, the physical tension is palpable. After all, that is how we have been conditioned – to equate sitting erect with stiffness. On the other hand, if I ask you to relax, you will notice your shoulders stooping as your spine leaves its upright stance. This duality, our tendency to swing between extremes, is a surprising mirror of our daily life.

The constant swings of the mind – between comfort and discomfort, happiness and sadness- often leave us exhausted. One minute, we revel in the lightness that a compliment brings while the next minute we struggle with the heaviness of a single criticism. While good news fills us with joy, a single stress-trigger is all it takes to bring our world crashing down. Whether we realize it or not, this constant pendulum takes a great deal of mental and emotional energy. For, what the mind truly seeks is equanimity – that fine mix of steadiness and relaxation.

And, that is where even a single yoga posture can work its magic.

The ability to steady yourself in a yoga posture using the breath, while still relaxing, holds the secret to productive living. It teaches you how to steady your mind even when life demands effort.

As your body relaxes, your mind follows. The initial feeling of discomfort soon gives way to comfort. And, you relax.

Our struggle with comfort is parallel to our struggle with stress. Logically speaking, the lesser one’s threshold of comfort, the greater the likelihood that he or she will be stressed. Life brings with it many unexpected situations, and yet when you choose to be comfortable in just a few select situations, it restricts your experience of all that life has to offer. Yoga helps you step beyond this “comfort zone”.

Every deeper breath that results in that additional stretch is a lesson, of exploring life beyond your own concepts and boundaries. Indeed, when your comfort level with the chair equals your comfort level with the floor, then the highs and lows cease to matter. And, your mind opens to new possibilities and opportunities as your body reaches its full potential.

Our effort to navigate life with yoga is by no means new. In fact, watch a child. No matter the country or the culture, you will be hard pressed to find a single yoga posture that a child does not perform between the stages of infancy and the age of 5. Your yoga class then is just a reminder for you – to reinvent and reuse postures from your childhood. And, to truly learn the gifts and secrets of yoga.

Yoga Master and Trainer, Kashi has been teaching yoga for 23 years and has taught more than 500,000 participants and yoga teachers across the world. Kashi will be teaching the YOGA IMMERSION program, a unique yoga experience, at the Tysons Marriot in Washington DC area on March 3 and 4, 2018. More information at Follow Kashi on Twitter @dkashikar.


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