Winter is Hawai’i’s rainy season, and there are rainbows to be seen daily during one’s commute. While my wife was driving over the Pali Highway, I was lucky enough to see this low flying rainbow and snap a photo. This rainbow would disappear and reappear around every bend. It was a delicate play of light and speed to be able to capture this rainbow on film, ultimately for a fleeting moment before we hit the tunnels leading to the Windward side.
This dance with the rainbow reminds me much of my daily yoga practice. I have certain postures that elude me. I have glimpses of the posture, but the reality of how my body is today and the vast chasm in between. Patanjali says in Sutra 11.47: Prayanta saithilya ananta samapattibhyam or “Perfection in asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached.”
I reflect on this sutra often. If I am struggling too much to attain an asana, perhaps it is not my time to go there yet and I need to work on more fundamental actions “lower” in the clan until I can perform them without effort. Although this may not be in the time that I want, this assures that I will not get injured, that I can continue practicing yoga into my old age, and it keeps my ego in check. Practicing yoga is not about the physical postures, it is about the full conquest of one’s ego. The asanas just happen to provide a valuable tool in doing so.
Perhaps one of my most frustrating times as a teacher was when I was preparing for the Intro I assessment. The syllabus of poses appeared “too easy” for my “advanced practice.” The poses included Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose), and 30 other “basic” asanas with the target being Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported All Body Pose or Shoulder Stand). I had to work on these poses for two years. I would see others in different yoga teacher trainings do arm balances, drop backs, and other “advanced” asanas. Meanwhile I was “stuck” with these asanas I had learned 10 years prior when I started yoga.
Then a magical thing happened. I came to the realization that these were not “basic” asanas at all, but were very complex once I peeled the thin veneer of the “shape” of the pose back. When you apply the correct actions to any pose, it becomes more difficult by an order of ten. I often refer to one of Kofi Busia’s two hour class where he taught 2 postures: Tadasana and Dandasana.
He held each pose of one hour. That experience takes one beyond what the asana is and introduces one to the other other aspects of yoga: namely Dharana (concentration), and Dhyana (meditation). Asana means “meditative seat” and as the name implies, it is a vehicle for meditation.
I am reading about people who are injuring themselves preparing for yoga competitions. I have much compassion for these people as they feel a need to show off their asanas in front of others to gain approval and “win” something. What exactly does one “win” when achieving Vrischikasana at the expense of dislocating a rib?
We all want to have “perfect postures” to instragram to the universe. We all want to attain the most difficult poses in the shortest amount of time. Does it do us any good? There will undoubtably be someone who does it better and with less effort.
This is Alice. This is what I aspire to be as a yoga practitioner. Alice is well into her 80’s. She has difficulty seeing with her glaucoma and cannot do inversions because of that condition. She needs a wall to support herself in Utthita Trikonasana. Alice has a daily yoga practice, and has had one for many years. This woman is unstoppable. She does not give a rip about what she looks like in her postures. The only thing she cares about is doing the proper actions so she does not injure herself. To me, she embodies what true yoga is all about.
Like the Rainbow on the Pali Highway, our asanas will shine and disappear just as quickly. Injury, old age, life events, will all get in the way of our yoga practice. But what we don’t realize is that these life events “are” the yoga practice. Sometimes asanas just get in the way.