The Western Yoga Practice Paradigm is often our entryway into Yoga. Practicing yoga is widely misinterpreted to mean attending a group class or two, or three, a week. Let’s dig into the pitfalls of this norm for the greater good. Krishnamacharya defines Yoga as a bird with two wings, abhyasa and vairagyam, practice and non-attachment, and these are commonly known amongst Yoga intelligentsia to be the means through which we reach the distinct goal of a calm mind that is capable of sustaining focus in a chosen direction, undistracted. So, they’re of the utmost importance. We need to grasp their actual meaning to properly implement Yoga into our lives. Birds need two balanced wings to fly, and these abhyasa and vairagyam “wings” support our momentum on our pilgrimage to inner peace, soul, and wisdom. We look briefly to the ancient text Yoga Sūtra-s of Patañjali to determine exactly what that looks like.
Do your yoga practice every single day. Don’t take breaks. Do it with a feeling of inner conviction. Like it. Through the appropriate effort (based on age, responsibilities, stage of life, and job or daily activities, amongst other parameters), reach a better place, then evaluate and change the effort to support your progress. Notice the distractions on your path, and detach from them so they don’t hold you back. Abridged-ly simple, and practically a great challenge, at least in the popular paradigm of drop-in Yoga classes which aim to fulfill the agenda of a group looking to be challenged in a limited way through Yoga āsana-s only.
Remedying the lopsided situation is in long overdue order. Students will benefit when their qualified teachers encourage them to do individually-tailored, daily self practices that directly address their needs. In the Krishnamacharya Tradition, this essentially refers to the Yoga Therapy process, an ancient way of applying the multitude of appropriate Yoga tools to the student and guiding them over time in their home-based, daily practice. Pivotal to this process is, as Mr. Desikachar always advised, that the student comes first and the yoga comes last. We have all these fancy āsana-s, specific breathing ratios, potent mantras, elaborate mudras, but we reserve their use until necessary. That means we keenly observe the student’s starting point, assess her/his needs, and implement into a relevant practice.
Built into abhyasa and vairagyam is their contingency upon the individual and the individual’s goals. We have no blanket do-s and don’t-s. For example, if I have back pain and anxiety, my abhyasa will address these accordingly, and my vairagyam may be to forego heavy lifting or getting sucked into watching TV news for hours and instead go on a walk in nature after dinner as an additional abhyasa. If I have high stress levels from work and diabetes, I may have to do an evening practice to unwind and help to give up my two glasses of wine every night. Someone can attend group classes for decades and never progress in their problem areas, because our MO is to avoid them, and we can fail to delve to the right depth. Application of yoga to the individual must factor in imbalances in all areas of life.
What harm can inappropriate yoga practices, known as mithya yoga/wrong yoga do? For starters, when you have limited time, getting the most out of what you are doing becomes tantamount; thus, you risk only scratching the surface of what is possible via Yoga. You can get repeat motion injuries. You can tear tendons, pull muscles, and reduce self-confidence because everyone around you can do this or that and you can’t. You can exacerbate IBS, cause incontinence, and trigger panic, just to begin. On the other hand, you can cure insomnia, increase fertility, strengthen your back. You can improve self-esteem, calm your mind, and gain clarity about a situation or direction. You can improve erectile dysfunction, support weight loss, and loosen up a stiff body. The possibilities on both ends of the spectrum are endless
The wave of the future in Yoga is Yoga Therapy. In a “studio” setting, this looks like each student having a thorough intake with a qualified Yoga Therapist, receiving a personalized practice, and further practicing that daily at home and within a self-practice setting at a Yoga center. We plan on commencing a self-practice space for this purpose in September, tilting the scale in the direction of a self-practice center. The more students enter yoga in this efficient manner, the sooner they see results, the better they feel, and the more Yoga Therapy gains momentum as an accepted form of complementary care.