We’ll come to realize that life is a never-ending change. We experience changes in all aspects of our lives. We go through challenging times, then easy times, and then there are moments that bring us boredom and emptiness. Mostly, when challenging times arise, we try to control these situations. As we grow older, it becomes harder to change. When challenging times arise, we become angry. We become defensive and ready to either control whatever is challenging the status quo or ready to escape it. We need change. Change is necessary for our personal growth and for our world. If we resist change, it causes destruction in us and all around us. Yoga can show us how to expand in our bodies and become freer in our minds. The teachings of yoga help us say YES to life.
There are five stages to each and every position which is very important for understanding the connection between Asana and life. The first step is mentally getting ready for the Asana. This state is a mental feeling state which comes out of practice as we become more familiar with each position. It’s just like a dance move when we know where our leg will step and where the other leg will go. The second step is flowing into the posture. This transition happens easily and effortlessly. You may visualize a graceful dancer moving from step to step without any effort to make the transitions. The third step is holding the position. In my opinion, it is the most important stage. Students generally get chatty while holding the Asana or even more, they may snap out of it and get ready to move onto the next Asana. The secret of the posture is to hold. Hold it with effortless breaths and stability. When we’re able to do this, the energy can flow into the right places, and an equilibrium will occur. The fourth step is releasing the position. Just as easily and effortlessly as we entered the position, we should be able to release it. Struggling to get in and out of the position disrupts the energy we could manifest while holding the Asana. The last stage is total relaxation. We come to a stop. We can reduce emotions and generate positive feelings. At the beginning of our yoga practice, we may pay attention to all the stages of Asana; that is the way it should be, and that is how we can grow. Eventually, these steps become one and we flow into the pose, hold the pose, and release the pose in an effortless way with a great deal of awareness. We stretch and strengthen the muscles while we’re in the posture and relax them at the final step. These stages are the most important techniques to overcome the never-ending changes of life.
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I would like to present an example in terms of loss that we may encounter many times throughout our lives. These losses may be a job, a relationship, freedom, or anything we hold close to our hearts. It’s very important to keep looking forward mindfully and to start preparing ourselves for the next steps in life. Of course, it is important to process and draw conclusions from past experiences, but we must remember that when a change is present, we can’t keep looking in the rearview mirror. We must get going. The first stage is to become aware of the change we’re facing mentally. We should realize positivity in the given situation instead of resisting it. For example, instead of thinking that we’ll never find a great job, we must set positive intentions, such as “There’s more to come, there’s better to come, we trust life, and we’ll find a more satisfying job that benefits us on many levels.” Then, with ease of mind, we can take the second step and flow into the change without any resistance or looking back. The next stage is holding the change. I believe that this is one of the hardest places to be. That’s why in Asana people either hold their breaths, distract themselves by chatter, or try to snap out of the position. The best thing we can do is take deep breaths and stay present throughout the change. This time of the change is teaching us a lot. The more we hold onto anger or defensiveness, the more destructive and difficult the change will be. However, if we hold the space, the anger will start to soften and eventually lift. While experiencing change, we strengthen our being and stretch our minds. This helps us grow and become freer. By the end of the change, for example, securing a new job, instead of rushing into the new possibility, we must take time to celebrate and recognize our expanded mind and our joy and happiness. This period is when all energies are balanced. We can reduce emotions and produce positive feelings. We can see that the most important part is holding. Holding space to grow in the Asanas and in life. Yoga is a mental posture, a state of balance and steadiness. It’s not by any means a headstand, a handstand, or a kind of fancy arm balance. It’s not a destination we must get to. It’s a journey. By practicing, we realize the fruits of yoga. We realize that there is nowhere to go; the method itself is the goal.
We often say that what we put in is what we get out. A very similar statement goes to understanding the time and intensity we bring into our Asana practice. Goswami Kriyananda often cites a mathematical formula, which is Intensity(I)* Duration(D)= resulting Force (F). I believe that the same formula can be used in many aspects of our lives if we want to determine our results. For example, we’re stretching the hamstring with full attention (Intensity) but only for a short period (Duration) of time. This will result in little force or result. But if we’re holding the pose with full intention and can increase our holding time, little by little we’ll see improvement. I am often asked how long a challenging position takes to be mastered. I tell students that it really depends on how ofen they do practice and with what intensity. At the beginning of our practice, Asanas should not be held for long periods of time. The hold of the posture may increase from a few seconds to a minute of time. While holding any position, we must pay extra attention to generous breathing. Taking generous breaths will help you stay present, hence, increase the intensity of the Asana.
At the beginning of the practice, we’ll typically have our eyes open until we become familiar with all the positions and cues that our teachers give us. Eventually, we’ll start turning inward. We’ll drop any outside distractions and focus only on our internal world. Once we’re ready, we may start by placing our attention on the tip of our nose by keeping our eyes halfway open. Eventually, we’ll be closing our eyes by keeping our focus on the third eye center. The third eye is located between the eyebrows on the root of the nose. This center is also called the sun center or Ajna chakra. By holding our focus on the sun center, we’re able to concentrate better. Holding our focus on this center is also called unmani mudra.