When Yoga Poses Aren’t Enough

While yoga is at its essence a spiritual practice, the discipline also includes an undeniable physical component. Because of this, I have aimed to make physical transformation more effective by applying scientific principles to the practice of PranaVayu Yoga.  The reason I have chosen to do this, is that not integrating safe body positioning, intelligent practice planning, and the need for rest and recovery into physical practices has been shown to actually diminish physical performance!  In my experience, this is as true with yoga as it is with any other physical discipline – practicing without structure increases the likelihood of injury, makes postures more difficult to accomplish and can even lead to practice plateaus which oftentimes diminish overall motivation for continued practice.

That being said, it’s also important to recognize that the physical components of the practice are only one small part of what is required to truly grow through yoga.  This idea is nothing new.  To my knowledge, there has never been a single ancient yoga system that focused exclusively on asana practice as part of their mind/body transformation approach.  Since time immemorial, yogis of many traditions have recognized that physical postures can be used to increase health and vitality.  However, most of these systems  also integrated additional meditative practices for the eradication of destructive emotional qualities such as anger or fear and the cultivation of positive emotional qualities such as love, compassion or a greater sense of empathy.

I fully concur with these practitioners!  While a deeper yoga pose can be wonderful to experience, the ability to do a crazy yoga posture doesn’t help too much when you lose a loved one or find yourself dealing with a difficult situation at work.   While physical practices can be used to release and process the physical effects of these experiences, the asanas themselves aren’t too terribly useful when you’re in the middle of some challenging experience.  If you don’t believe this, try it out for yourself.  The next time somebody gets up in your grill, try breaking out warrior II pose and see how far it gets you!   Because of this, I strongly believe that if we wish to use yoga to remain happy, healthy and open through the unpredictable vicissitudes of life, something more is needed than asana practice.

And so, to provide our students with a more complete set of working tools with which to meet life’s many changes and challenges, I have integrated traditional Buddhist yoga philosophy, exercise science and meditation into the structure of every PranaVayu class.  Typically, our base level classes always begin with a short dharma teaching and traditional guided breathing practices (pranayama).  The class then integrates a full warm-up and cool-down cycle designed to enhance flexibility and muscle recovery, seven short sequences of postures strategically designed to focus on all important ranges of motion. Additionally, as research has shown that 12 minutes are required to engage a true relaxation response, every PranaVayu class includes a minimum of 15 minutes of guided meditation in savasana.

Finally, because only a small fraction of our time is actually spent on the mat, I have also chosen to integrate additional practice methods into our overall training approach.  These methods give us a concrete set of tools to help us take our yoga off of the mat and into the world.  Developed under the guidance of Harvard University Buddhist Chaplain Khenpo Migmar Tseten, this system gives our students the philosophical  and meditative grounding necessary to make the world a better place through the conscious cultivation of  generosity, discipline, patience, effort, meditation, and wisdom in our daily lives and actions.

Do  you integrate spirituality or meditation into your practice?  If so, how?  

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2 responses to “When Yoga Poses Aren’t Enough

  1. I agree with you and your ideas that meditation and pranayama are also important. A few years ago, i did hit a plateau on account of not taking enough of both into account, and so I stepped away from yoga for about a month and allowed my body to relax. My practice became much stronger after that month.

    So now, I try to start my practice off by a series of pranayama, much like your classes. I find that starting off with pranayama helps quiet my mind down and helps me focus on the asana portion of the practice. I also close again with pranayama followed by meditation.

    I also try to read up on some philosophy that is Hindu and/or Buddhist in nature when i’m not practicing. I find this to be beneficial too.

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