"Yoga is an ancient spiritual tradition, of which the practice of physical postures, known as asanas, are just one component. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras asana is in fact only one out of the full eight limbs of practice. Recent dialogue within the yoga community, most notably in the New York Times article on yoga-related injuries, presents the notion that yoga might be potentially discounted because of the risk of physical injury. Yet this fails to take into account the spiritual journey to the heart of each student’s essential nature that is at center of the yoga practice itself. A true student of yoga is a sincere spiritual seeker and is willing to go through the work of pain, suffering and potential injury if that road ultimately leads to liberation, happiness, healing and freedom. My teacher Sri K. Pattabhi Jois said that if you experienced an injury during your physical yoga practice the only real way to heal that injury was through more yoga. He also said that if you quit your practice after having experienced that injury that it would stay with you for a long time, perhaps the rest of your life. If pain can be avoided by students learning their lessons the easy way through an open heart, healthy alignment and accepting attitude that is the fastest road. However, when pain and injury arise it is crucial that you do not run from them nor allow their presence to rule your experience of your body, your practice and your life.
There is a mind-body connection that underlies the practice of physical postures. Yoga is more of a body awareness technique than a physical exercise routine. In fact the main purpose of all the postures is to prepare your body and mind for deeper states of realization. When you try to feel and awaken a forgotten area of the body for the first time it is often hard to rouse. Yoga students must use the posture to dig deeper into the layers of the body and reach through memories, emotions, thoughts and anything else to touch the heart of their human soul with all its foibles and vulnerabilities. In the path of yoga it is essential that when pain arises you do not run from it, reacting to the pain from a purely psychological perspective and throw out the whole tradition based on fear. In fact, when you do experience pain it is sometimes a better teacher of the inner work that happens along the path of yoga. Any injuries that arise can be used to learn a deeper lesson about life so that then actually the path of yoga is truly working from a broader perspective.
Editor’s note: that said, fear and pain can be two different things. If a yoga posture is hurting you, this can be dangerous. Needless to say, we hope! Being macho and pushing through is not the message here. ~ ed.When you accept yoga as a spiritual path the notion of the need for “safety” is challenged. You have the confidence to let yourself fall with the full faith that one day you will catch yourself in the air. Think of the yogi as a brave warrior going on a long and epic journey to the center of the soul. Just as in every heroic epic there are fearsome, painful and worrying battles that test the limits of the hero’s ability, so too in yoga are there challenging, difficult and nearly impossible postures that test the limits of your body and mind. But if you are the hero who is committed to the whole journey, then you also have the heart to see the experience all the way through to the end and win your final freedom."
I hope you find Kino's words here to be as enlightening as I have I found them.
And now I'm going to go off on a little rant here. If you don't like rants, please feel free to just skip this paragraph altogether. I feel compelled to say something here about that Editor's note that popped up in the middle of Kino's words. While I'm sure the editors have perfectly good intentions in inserting that note, there's a part of me that can't help feeling that it is (a) rather disrespectful to Kino, and (b) rather insulting to the discerning ability of the reader. First, if somebody were giving a speech, for instance, you wouldn't think of interrupting her speech to deliver your own commentary on it, would you? Moreover, what Kino is saying here seems sensible enough: It's not as if she's asking people to go throw themselves over a cliff! Besides, I'm pretty sure Elephant Journal has published articles with much more questionable content before: I don't seem to recall the esteemed editors inserting any editor's notes in those cases. So why the double standard here? Why do our esteemed editors suddenly feel the need here to be self-appointed arbiters of public yoga safety standards? In any case, isn't this unceremonious insertion of editor's notes at odds with Elephant Journal's professed policy of openness and being embracing of diverse viewpoints?
End of rant. Thank you for bearing with (or not bearing with) this rant. Yoga in the Dragon's Den will presently resume its usual friendly, non-ranty, (hopefully) non-preachy voice.