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Pacemaker: Can yoga harm?

Sthiram (firmness) and sukham (ease, comfort) in a simple asana"  

After the New York Times article on Yoga being harmful, many asked me about the dangers. Misconceptions and misuse can harm. Real yoga is meant to accelerate evolution and heal, not harm.

Asana is only an aspect of yoga

Yoga nowadays has become synonymous with asanas. Asana is only one anga (limb or aspect) of yoga. Even the approach to asana has become merely physical. Or spiritual or psychological concepts are thrown in, which are disconnected to how one approaches asana. Asana is looked at as a posture rather than its original meaning of “a state of being”. One experiences and evokes many qualities and aspects from within. Sthiram (stability and firmness) sukham (comfort, ease) asanam is what Patanjali says in the yoga sutras. However many push too hard.

There are many simple jathis (conscious rhythmic movement), kriyas (action for purification) and asanas to start off with. However, the human mind can be twisted into thinking that the more complicated the asana, the better the benefits. This lack of awareness combined with greed makes the asana a dangerous tool to hurt oneself. It is common sense to realise that a sedentary person will hurt oneself if he did the shirasana or head stand.

Find a class that emphasises awareness rather than achievement

I see many yoga teachers teach the shirasana (head stand) in a drop in class. They have no idea about the person's physical or emotional condition or history. There is a process of preparing the body for these more advanced asanas. This is sadly left out. One needs to be mindful of the state of one's own body rather than try to match up to some acrobatics.

I was invited to teach at a conference and after my class I decided to participate in the next one. I was appalled to see that the teacher, instead of asking the participants to do the practice as per their body's condition, was goading them not to give up and to “go for it”. There was an audience of over 50, many of whom had never practised yoga before. Many were old and stiff. Some were forcing themselves to do the advanced postures at the fast pace in which she was teaching. For years many are sedentary and then they want to jump steps. Or they pick up a yoga video and practice advanced postures without supervision.

The key principle in yoga is awareness. When yoga is not approached holistically and self awareness is lacking, it definitely has the potential to harm. Yoga is balance, so if you have a balanced approach to your practice then you will derive benefits. This means you do not do too little, neither push too much. Then you will gently allow the body to relax, open up and release old traumas to blossom into its true magnificence.

Drop unhealthy expectations

This is similar to some who want to lose 20 kg in 10 days. Yoga is looked at as doing a few postures to miraculously become peaceful or miraculously transform. Yoga is a step by step process of shifting one's lifestyle and stance towards oneself and the world. One shifts physical, emotional and mental patterns to become a vehicle of harmony and integration. It is an art and science that builds stability and alignment with the divine, not just a routine to do. That is what I emphasise when I train Arkaya Yoga teachers. That they work on cultivating patience, stability and the courage to face different layers of themselves. Not look for instant gratification. This can be cultivated if the approach to asana is mindful. They also learn to lighten up about life without being too hard on themselves.

Pointers to become more aware

Before you crave to develop a sixth sense in yoga one needs to develop common sense. This is the foundation for all practices

Spend time with yourself and tune into your body. Practice the mindfulness tools and gentle jathis (conscious rhythmic movements). I have listed many in my earlier articles. I often see those who are flexible, yet lack body awareness. Those are two different things. The jathis help not only to make one flexible but to help one become more physically and emotionally aware. This awareness is important to shift deep-rooted samskaras or habit patterns.

Be aware of your breath as you move through the practice. The breath is an important link to bring together many aspects of oneself. Once this union happens within, then your external world will also seem more cohesive

Take things one step at a time. Cultivate consistency

Keep sipping water. This detoxifies the system. Dehydration can cause much damage.

Always end the class with Shava asana. Then the energetic shifts sink into the system. Do not underestimate assimilation time. The conscious letting go is as important as the conscious doing.

Yoga is not competition. If the person next to you is better or the teacher pushes you, do not get into a posture that feels too far away from your range of motion.

Develop compassion towards yourself and keep unhealthy influences at arm's length. True yoga is not just tapas (austerities) that many raakshasas (demonic natured) and strong willed people can do. One needs to become more conscious and good hearted. That is true yoga. Else the strength, power and focus developed will be misused.


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Printable version | Jun 10, 2021 6:53:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/pacemaker-can-yoga-harm/article2856915.ece

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