Are you considering taking up a consistent yoga practice that will bring transformative benefits to your mind, your emotions, your body, and your whole life? Most mainstream “yoga” these days should really be placed into the “group fitness” or “exercise” category (I refer to this as “yoga fitness”). However, leaders in a traditional, therapeutic hatha yoga practice will guide you in many different ways than yoga fitness leaders. Here are three things to consider:
Cultivation of Physical Intelligence (vs. sloppy movements)
Awareness of the human system best occurs when foundational steps of mastery are repeated hundreds and thousands of times, when stillness is the core of the practice, and when fine-tuning is emphasized. It is especially important that teachers do not shy away from pointing out a weakness, sloppiness, unnecessary movement, or overexertion in your practice. Having one or two core teachers who work with you over a long period of time will serve you best in this realm.
Effort mentality (vs. achievement)
One of the first steps is to understand that accomplishing things has nothing to do with success in yoga. If you can get 5% of the way into a posture but are 100% focused and trying the correct techniques and form, you will literally get the maximum therapeutic benefits. If you get 99 percent of the way into a posture but have poor form, mouth breathing, or chaotic movement, the posture benefits simply do not take effect.
Deepening of Focus (vs. variety)
One of the biggest problems in mainstream “yoga fitness” today is the encouragement of and reliance on variety, without therapeutic rationale. Boredom, as one of my students recently reminded me, is only a sign that you have disengaged from what you are doing. Offering something new from the outside (new postures, new styles, playlists, yoga hybrids, etc.) avoids confronting your disengagement, and keeps you on the cycle of looking for the next cool thing.
Traditional yoga instruction will assist you in finding out why you disengaged, rather than offering a new or “interesting” class to temporarily distract you from your disconnection. Finding the most intense focus on the simplest posture is how you progress in hatha yoga, not by doing a more interesting or complicated posture.
Ann Chrapkiewicz, M.A., studies and writes about yoga, healing, and American culture. Her primary areas of expertise are therapeutic applications of Bikram Yoga and medical anthropology. She can be reached through her website at www.byca.yoga or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.