Yoga Articles by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad
Exploring Relationships - Interpersonal Yoga (Page 2)
Another important aspect in my approach to yoga involves understanding "conditioning." Just as doing yoga is playing the edge between control and surrender, there is also an interplay between transformation and resistance to change. There's no way to remain the way you are now: you either become more rigid and crystallized, or you break out of patterns and transform. The conditioning process brings habits in the mind and body that accumulate over time. These patterns define you - the way you move, hold your body, what you think and even when you think. As you age, the habit taking-on process makes you more rigid both physically and mentally. Your internal systems function less efficiently and your body's movements are more limited.
I am not presenting conditioning as a villain to be done away with, for it serves important functions in people's lives, as well as in the universe. Conditioning and its ensuing habits are part of the universal process of individuation. Individual entities, all of us, are systems with self-protective mechanisms that define boundaries and keep them intact. The way we build security in our life involves habits that we are often not conscious of. Some habits are necessary. They become dangerous if we unconsciously let them direct our lives. Repeating habits over time tends to put you on automatic like a machine, and filters how you relate to the present. If your habits are rigid and deep in the unconscious, the filter is very cloudy and you miss the present. If you miss the present, you miss all there really is.
Experience conditions you, leaving a mark, an imprint. Memory lives in the cells, in the systems of the body, in the brain, and in thought itself. The paradox of experience is that it both teaches you and limits you. It expands your horizons, and is the ground or matrix from which transformation can occur. At the same time, it also builds habits in the mind and body which narrow and confine you. For instance, if you pull a muscle in yoga, this experience can teach you how applying too much force may stem from greed or inattention. It can also create habits in your yoga. You can consciously or unconsciously avoid the area. Or, if you approach the injured muscle, the fear of hurting yourself again may bring tension that closes it further. As this is repeated, the muscle learns to close to protect itself from anticipated pain. A habit is formed.
There are habits in yoga as in everything you do repeatedly, but awareness of the nature of habits helps you avoid being automatically pushed by them. Doing postures like mechanical exercises turns yoga into calisthenics, which dulls the adventure and passion that is part of the transformative process. Resistance to doing yoga is often feedback that your practice has become stale and habit-bound.
" Feedback-sensitivity " is the capacity to listen to and understand the messages the different parts of the body are sending. This sensitivity is not only crucial in avoiding injuries or healing them, but it enables you to have greater control over the yogic process. For example, it is only through feedback sensitivity that you can know when to move deeper into an area or when to back off the pose.
Before going into my approach to doing physical yoga, I would like to describe how yoga affects your well-being. Infants are flexible; their bodies move easily. As you age, you tighten and this tightness surrounds the nerves, glands, circulatory system, the spine and energy systems. The body then becomes less efficient; energy wanes as systems slow down or get blocked. The body is less sensitive and less in touch with itself - more coated and dulled. Since a basic dimension of life is movement on all levels, the very quality of life is dimmed.
The word "disease" means what it literally says: dis-ease. As the body becomes less "easy" in itself, it begins to break down. The process of yoga keeps the physical systems opened and energized which prevents breakdown and illness. Yoga also has great curative potential since the postures are highly refined tools. They enable you to get into different bodily systems in very specific ways, strengthening and healing them. Yoga gives you the possibility of taking your health into your own hands.
Many people only concern themselves with health when it's gone. They lack the interest or the ability to stay in touch with the state of their various systems, until it's too late and breakdown occurs. Doing yoga can alert you when your reservoir of energy first begins to go down, as well as give you the means to replenish it. The preventative power of yoga is greatly aided by the fact that yoga builds sensitivity to internal feedback, helping you detect early warnings. You can then, through yoga, learn to heal yourself long before breakdown occurs.
Yoga has been called a "fountain of youth" because it brings health and vitality, but this is a misnomer. The search for a fountain of youth, whether through magic, drugs, or techniques, indicates a resistance to the aging process. I prefer to call yoga a "fountain of life." Aging is inevitable. Yoga allows you to approach it awarely as a transformative process that can bring growth and new depths with maturation. Resisting aging is actually resisting transformation and growth. Paradoxically, the resistance to aging, which includes holding on to old, inappropriate ways of living, exacerbates the very aging process you fear.
In yoga you confront the living/dying process that expresses itself in aging. Youth is a time of innocence when the body maintains and even increases its energy fund automatically. Then there comes a time, usually in the late 20's or 30's, when this process reverses so that the body, left to its own devices, begins gradually to lose energy. It's possible, however, to age with continued increase in the power and efficiency of your energy. This does not happen by itself. You must deal consciously and awarely with the automatic tendencies of closure (entropy) in your body. Yoga not only counters the entropic process of breakdown, but it opens you up in new ways, bringing a way of maturing and developing with elegance, depth and richness.