Yoga Articles by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad

Yoga as Self-Transformation (Page 6)

Joel Kramer Yoga Journal May/June 1980

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Psychological Aspect

Transformation, change, growth, actualizing potential - these are very positive sounding ideals that most people who do yoga strive for. Yet all of us who are involved in any growth process face resistance. In yoga there is resistance in the tissue, resistance to doing yoga, resistance to changing the habits and lifestyles that impede growth. As a person who has been involved with yoga and growth-oriented activities for years, it seemingly would be nice if I could tell you that I have conquered resistance. I have not. I do not feel that it can be totally conquered, although it need not be a significant problem either. You can learn to use it as a teacher, for resistance can teach you where your habits and attachments lie. It can also teach you where you block yourself and where you are self-protective. In order to go into this, I would like to discuss more of the psychological aspects of yoga.

That the mind and body affect each other is obvious. Psychological tensions live in the musculature: when you are "up tight," you are literally tightening the muscles and blocking energy. Through years of accumulated tensions, the body becomes a repository for the unconscious, in that it "learns" to close off different physical areas that affect emotional states. For instance, a compressed chest literally makes it harder to experience deep emotions. The strength of the emotions that may come from opening your chest can make you uncomfortable, so you may resist opening that area.

So much of what limits our yoga practice is not in the body itself, but rather mental attitudes and habits. Resistance in postures is in the mind as well as in the body. Mental resistance can take many forms - forgetting, excuses, so-called "laziness," even illness and injuries. If you can minimize mental resistance, that is the key to eventually working through the physical resistance. As you get deeper into Hatha (physical) Yoga,it becomes increasingly necessary to get to know the nature of the mind.

Most of us totally identify with our mind, calling it ourselves. Without realizing it is just one of the systems that makes up a human being. The importance of the mind is enormous, and its power so great, that it often ignores, subverts, or overrides the other systems that have their own intelligence. Our body may tell us we're not hungry, yet we eat; or when tired, we push ourselves. Though yoga can make us more attuned to the wisdom within the tissue, it is the mind that must interpret this. How the mind interprets is directly related to its nature and its experience (conditioning). We don't usually think of the mind as structured and conditioned, because our mind is like a lens that we view ourselves and the world through - a given, that we rarely question. Yet there are principles to how the mind works, just like there are principles to how the body works. Understanding them opens up the mind and body to hitherto unimagined possibilities, and is a doorway to transformation.

Looking at resistance can reveal the nature of mind, for what we are resisting is often the very thing we say we want. Why do I do yoga at all? How much of my yoga is fueled by fear - of aging, of dying, of losing energy? How much of my yoga is driven by ambition - for accomplishment, for higher states of consciousness, for youth and health, for vibrancy? Of course, we all have fears and ambitions that we bring to yoga. The problem is not that we have them, but rather that they take over our yoga, often unconsciously. When this happens, the mind is oriented either to the past or the future, and loses contact with the living process of yoga: how the muscles feel, the energy being generated, the subtle changes which require great attention. If you become aware of how the motives that underly fear and ambition can limit your practice, this does not necessarily eliminate them or your other reasons for doing yoga. It can, however, help you put them aside during your practice, so that you can be less mechanical and more present and attentive.

Have you ever asked yourself why you do things that you know aren't good for you? Not, "how do I stop? but, "why do I do them at all?" Another way of asking is, "What is the nature of self-destructiveness?" Most of us think we would like to have more energy, but if we look carefully and honestly, we see that we keep our energy controlled within safe boundaries. If our energy gets too low, the fabric of our life falls apart. We need a certain amount of energy to keep it together. Less obviously, if your energy gets too high, it can push you out of your habits and the security and pleasures they are linked to. Many activities take a certain energy level - some high, others low. For example, you can't watch television if your energy is too high, for you become restless. If, for whatever reason, you are attached to TV, you may overeat to bring your energy down. Here you are unconsciously controlling your energy with overeating, which is self-destructive, in order to preserve a pleasure. Doing yoga properly increases energy, which pushes against mental and physical habits, while the habits, by their nature, resist change.

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