'First you stabilize the mind because if the mind is not in your control it will be like a monkey, a drunken monkey, that is jumping everywhere. First you need to control your mind and for that you need discipline and this comes from the practice of asana...
Sharath continued, “Asana is the foundation for all spiritual building, if the foundation is strong then the building will be strong. Mind transformation will happen when you do asanas. For others it looks like physical, it is only when you go inside and practice asana for many years then only can you realize how spiritual it really is.” An analogy that Sharath likes to discuss this process is about a sailor who sails without diving doesn’t know the beauty of the ocean, the diver sees the beautiful fish and animals. If you just go on the ocean, on the surface then you never get anything, your mind becomes imagination, but there is no self-practice and no realization within. When you dive inside the sea then you will come to the conclusion that “this” is yoga with asana practice. He says, “You can relish the purity of this practice.”'
When I first read these two paragraphs, two thoughts occurred to me: One of them is what we might call a "proper" thought; the other one might be called an "improper thought." (talk about having a drunken jumping monkey mind...)
I guess I'll start with the proper thought. If we understand that the purpose of asana is to control the mind by making us "go inside", then we can also understand why there are six series of asanas in Ashtanga, and why the practitioner practices increasingly physically difficult postures as his or her physical flexibility and strength increases with consistent practice. The purpose of doing increasingly difficult postures isn't to show off one's physical prowess or gratify one's ego. Rather, the idea is that mastering something challenging requires one-pointed concentration. This is true whether one is totally new to Ashtanga and is struggling to do five Surya Bs, or whether one is an experienced practitioner working on third series postures. In both cases, the challenge of the asana at hand requires the absolute concentration of the practitioner in that moment. It is this absolute one-pointed concentration that allows one to control the mind and to "go inside." It has (or should have) nothing to do with showing off; in fact, if one is so proficient at a particular posture that it comes so easily to one, so that one can "show off" while doing that posture, then that probably means that one is ready for the next posture. That, at any rate, is my opinion. And this concludes my proper thought.
Being the subversive person that I am, I can never resist improper thoughts. Specifically, I can never seem to resist the temptation to stretch analogies whenever I hear them. As I was reading Sharath's analogy about how the sailor who doesn't dive misses out on the beauty of the ocean while the diver "sees the beautiful fish and animals", I couldn't help wondering: Where do asana injuries come into this picture? After all, when one goes deep sea diving, one doesn't see only beautiful fish and animals. One must also be wary of some not-so-beautiful fish and animals that lurk in the depths, waiting to feast on the unsuspecting Ashtangi/diver. If one is not careful, these animals will smash one's spine or bite one's leg off at the knee (get the analogy here? :-)).
Beware, brave Ashtangi, of the monsters lucking in the ocean of asana...
[Image taken from here]
Indeed, if the reports in a recent New York Times Magazine article are to be believed, yoga may be positively the worst thing you can do to your body since... I don't know (Is there a negative counterpart to the expression "the best thing since sliced bread"? Oh, the pains of not being a native English speaker...). Anyway, if you read the article, you will be appalled by many scary stories of otherwise upstanding citizens who have totally wrecked their bodies through this thing called yoga; although if you look at the pictures in the article, and if the citizens in question really did the postures in question with the same kind of excellent alignment as the, ahem, models in those pictures, it really shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that yoga hurt them rather than benefited them. Or, to extend Sharath's analogy even further, it is quite possible that these people positively threw themselves into the ocean of asana with both eyes wide shut, inviting the sharks of injury to feast on them.
Indeed, this article is so interesting, and so typical of NYT's coverage of yoga in recent months, that it has prompted me to do something I seldom do on this blog: Make a prediction. I predict that in about a month from now (maybe less), the NYT will run an article linking yoga with brain cancer. What?! How's that possible? You may ask. Well, maybe the resourceful reporters at NYT will hunt down this ex-yogi/yogini who has recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and the yogi or yogini's doctor will claim that the tumor was caused by performing headstand. How's that possible? You may ask again. Well, here's a possible, somewhat-scientific-sounding explanation: Doing Sirsasana everyday over an extended period of time causes a particular hormone (let's call this Hormone A) to flow down from its usual place in x-gland, and to accumulate in the pineal gland. Over time, the excessive amount of Hormone A that accumulates in the pineal gland becomes a carcinogenic agent, resulting in the growth of a (possibly malignant) tumor. But how can this happen? Isn't Sirsasana supposed to be the king of asanas or whatnot? You may ask. Well, I don't know... I'm not a doctor (at least not the medical kind). Why ask me?
I guess I should make a disclaimer here: I'm not writing any of this to be snarky. I definitely do not wish brain tumors, malignant or not, on anybody. At any rate, if any of this scares you, I apologize. It's probably not too late to quit yoga now, if you want to avoid having your body and brain wrecked by this terrible thing.
Crap... now I've written myself into a corner. I had originally intended this to be an uplifting post about how although injury sucks, it is not all bad. I had meant to throw in that shark analogy as a witty rejoinder to Sharath's analogy, and then go on to talk about how injury can serve the positive function of really forcing oneself to go inside (how can you not, if the difference between paying attention and not doing so can mean the difference between suffering excruciating pain in your knee/SI joint/whatever-it-is-that's-bothering-you, or having a productive healing practice?). In this way, I was going to write, injury presents a valuable opportunity for Svadyaya, or self-study. (Another disclaimer: Please, please, I am not advocating injury. Please don't go out on the mat tomorrow morning, break your back/knee/whatever, and then say that I told you to do it in the name of Svadyaya. And add to yoga's already bad rep.) But it seems that blog posts have a life of their own. You start out intending to write one thing. And then the thing morphs into a totally different creature. Ah well. What to do? Thanks for reading again, as always.