Interview on Yoga Practices
[From a recent interview with Ganga White]
Should yogis have goals for their practice and if so what kind?
Many yogis have the common goals of increased strength, flexibility, and vitality. But the more important goal is learning to use your practice to better serve yourself and tune the well-being of your body, mind, and spirit. That is much more meaningful and valuable than bending farther or doing a one handed handstand.
How do we know when we’re progressing?
Real progress starts when you learn to see and feel, for yourself, the actual effects of the various poses. A teacher can tell you what the benefits of a pose are, but when you actually feel it yourself, it is much more effective. It like the difference between being told what the gears in a car do and learning to use them skillfully yourself and feeling their effects on the road and in the control of the vehicle. As you progress, or become more effective at using the tools of yoga, you develop the ability to articulate joints, vertebra, tendons and nerves as you tune into more subtle aspects of what the internal actions of the postures are. You learn how to remove the imbalances created by other activities and to reduce the stress we all accumulate. It’s also important to remember that the essence of yoga is about awareness and consciousness. Real progress is expressed as mental clarity, happiness, and insight into living.
What do we do when we see progress or a goal being met?
There is a lot of joy in mastering a posture or finally overcoming a limitation, or attaining a sought after asana. But we also need to remember that life is a moving target. Goals are constantly changing and moving and we need to learn to go with the flow. Yoga is more about learning and refining a lifelong process than merely reaching goals.
What are we looking for in certain kinds of poses–what does it mean to progess in inversions, standing postures, etc. For example, in some pose categories the aim might be to let go and surrender and in others it might be to extend endurance and stamina, improve balance, still the mind, be gentler with ourselves.
In all the poses we want to move away from straining and efforting, toward gracefulness and effortlessness. When we get better at using the poses to serve our well being, we are less likely to force a goal and go beyond the edge to injury.
How can the broader practices like pranayama, meditation, philosophy support and be part of this process?
Meditation is the process. It is moving into self awareness on the deepest and broadest levels. Whether we realize it or not, our philosophy, ideas, and beliefs directly condition our practice. Meditation involves becoming aware of conditioning, beliefs and internal constructs. Meditation is becoming more watchful of the internal landscape. Pranayama helps develop energy flows, internal perceptions, steadiness and focus. Control of breath leads to control of the energy systems and the energy body and pranayama can connect us to the healing intelligence of the life force. These things are at the core and essence of yoga. And meditation is your life.