The goal should be higher — to achieve positive transformation through asana
Yoga is a pathway to positive changes in body and mind. But most people practise it not because they have a specific transformation in mind but simply because yoga makes them feel good. Not all positive change in life necessarily feels good at the outset. We all know this. Quitting smoking or exercising more every day doesn’t always feel good; it is a challenge, and we have to push ourselves to do it. But the outcome is beneficial; we do experience a more positive state of body and mind afterwards.
Yoga acknowledges this resistance to change as a fundamental barrier to positive transformation.
But where is the line between a practice that merely feels good and one that creates truly beneficial change over time? Can we be addicted to asana or other practices of yoga? Can a person do yoga because he feels good even if it is not really helping him in the long term? Unfortunately, yes. And you have probably come across people who are in this trap.
For most people, asana starts as a powerfully transformative practice for their bodies, and partly their minds. In time, typically, progress slows down, and even regression is possible. This is because of the nature of body and mind.
Asana practice should not become a struggle. Instead, there should be harmony between the breath and the body.
The three gunas — clarity and lightness (satva), activity and restlessness (rajas), and subsiding and dullness (tamas) — are in constant flux. Feeling good is usually a consequence of rotation among these.
In particular, neither rajas nor tamas feels good over an extended time; our body and mind begin to wish for the opposite to restore balance. When we feel very dull, activity can help us feel good.
Conversely, when we feel restless and disturbed, slowing down and resting helps us feel better. Neither sleep and rest nor activity and engagement make us feel good after some time. We need the rotation among the modes of activity and rest.
This is like receiving a massage. Within limits, a massage feels good, but if it continues for hours, it begins to induce pain rather than pleasure!
Positive transformation, in contrast to feeling good, requires more than just rotating between the flux of modes in the mind and body.
Lasting positive change in body and mind arises from shifting the base mode of the mind and body toward sattva — lightness in the body and clarity in the senses and mind.
As an automatic consequence, the practice also feels good, as the body and mind stay steady in a positive state for longer periods of time. If the principal barometer is feeling good rather than positive transformation, injuries can result from asana practice. That’s because feeling good is not judged by the body alone but by the mind as well —sometimes mainly by the mind.
To ensure that our practice is relevant to us, we must ensure that we stay mindful of the goal. Not only should the practice feel good, it must also lead us toward a more balanced and positive state of body and mind, one of lightness and clarity. Moving the body reduces heaviness and dullness, comfortably long and smooth breathing reduces the restlessness in the body and mind.
As this state of mind emerges, we endeavour to deepen and extend it as the foundation for deeper practices of pranayama and meditation, and as the support for a healthy body and calm mind. This is the basis of an asana practice for positive transformation rather than only feeling good in the moment.
This article appeared in The Hindu newspaper.