The Thinking Yogi - What to take and what to leave......
The best thing about yoga philosophy is that it is described as an experience and not a fact!
The worst thing about Yoga practice is that it has a tradition that places boundaries on our world and is taught through a veil of assumptions from guru to student.
The dilemma of the modern Yogi is to determine WHAT to explore and WHAT to ignore. As we search for answers to our questions we start to settle and become content that we have FOUND just the right thing.
It might just be a good idea to be very wary of someone that is 'certain' they have the answer. Certainty can lead to a fixed mindest, and that is a mind that that stops growing. Stay curious.
Yoga fills up our heads with both physical and mental ideas. It has the capacity to change both our bodies and our minds. It has both a physical and a mental practice. Maybe that in itself is a danger - using a single approach that encapsulates our physical and mental landscape.
I must acknowledge though that Yoga has helped me enormously. By providing both physical maintenance and mental clarity my life has been enhanced, even with my doubts and avoidance of parts of Yoga I can not deny its many benefits.
However, there are elements that I have not found at all useful. For example what is a chakra? Really, what are they? Something that can not be seen or felt but in the yoga world is taught as 'factual'.....How can anyone 'align' our chakras when they can not be seen or identified? How much of yoga is really just an Indian tradition based on superstition and myth?
If I choose to NOT practice parts of traditional Yoga and even seriously doubt them, what does that mean? Am I still a Yogi? Does it matter anyway?
The philosophy behind Yoga can be useful and the idea that our thinking and mind is basically happening in an unconscious way has been supported by western science. Learning to "listen" to our thoughts as a way of having them loosen their grip on our behaviour is also supported by modern research.
There is a close relationship between forms of eastern forms of meditation and western cognitive psychology.
Cognitive psychology teaches people to reframe negative self-talk by becoming aware of it, then considering in what way the negative thought isn’t true, then replacing it with a conscious thought that better reflects the truth (this could be an affirmation).
Research have shown that this strategy can changes brain chemistry in some people suffering from chronic depression to the same degree that brain chemistry is altered through anti-depressive medications. Cognitive psychology is clearly onto something, and it doesn’t hurt to borrow the strategy. Basically, you overwrite negative self-talk, when noticed, with an affirming statement that supports the new attitude or desire you’re working on.
So that's great, a mental practice can be justified! But some of our talk about yoga postures themselves leave me quite mystified.
For example - how useful are head stands? - and why are they called the King of postures?This somehow suggsests they are an incredibly good pose. But are they? I have repeatedly read that they increase nutrients and blood flow to the scalp, decreasing onset of grey hair. ??? Some say that it will even convert grey hair back to its natural color! I need to see some research results!
And, apparently Headstands 'stimulate and provide 'fresh' blood to the pituitary and hypothalamus glands, so you can expect better sex with a consistent headstand practice!' You gotta love it - the blood circulates constantly through the brain, the body controls quite closely the amount that it circulates. A 'flush' of fresh blood would be akin to having a stroke or cerebral haemorrage. Sure invert your legs to assit venous return but be prepared for head blood pressure to rise dramatically, also remember blood pressure does not equal blood volume.
Plough pose and shoulder stand (the Queen of poses) place amazing pressure on the small neck bones, joints and discs. Is the benefit REALLY worth the risk. Most of us spend so much time sitting in flexion, do we really need such an extreme version. A foward carrying head is endemic in our western world pushing it forward does just not seem that wise.
Sometimes I think that we as instructors just parrott what we have been taught with out really understading every cue we use. So many of the imagery, technical and antomical cues I hear make absolutely no sense. For example:
Melt your heart! What does it mean.
Pull your should blades together in plank pose - this is a push position and needs wide shoulder blades. Scapula retraction will destabilise and cause winging in those with weak shoulders.
Roll your armpits outward in dog pose - once again need to roll the arm pits in to each other to activate serratus anterior.
Tuck you tail bone under and simultaneously point your pubic bone to the floor. Impossible they are fixed togther. ONLY joints can move our skeleton.
The constant 'tuck your tail bone under' which causes disc pressure and 'sit back on your heels' which reduces ankle mobility in chair pose. Maybe these cues are good for specific people but are commonly used as general, for everyone cues. Cue to neutral is more specific than direction.
Puff up your kidneys. Not sure if most people know where their kidneys are - and what is the purpose? Muscle engagement or skeletal alignment?
Pull your should down your back when arms are abov ehead. When the arms are in full flexion (above the head) the shoulder blades need to be upwardly rotated i.e. on the sides of the ribcage AND elevated. Otherwise you will jam the shoulder joint.
We all seem to look for others for guidance, and that is good. However a healthy does of self research is a really good idea.