Saturday, November 25, 2006

Yoga for Comfort

At KYM (the yoga school I went to in September), everything is very logically ordered, including the way asana practice is taught. There are three main krama (stages) that apply to most people:
Shristi Krama
This is basically Ashtanga yoga - postures are taught in a flowing sequence linked by sun salutations. The aim of this type of practice is to increase flexibility and strength and improve concentration. It is usually taught to children and teenagers.

Sikshana Krama
Once a student has mastered shristi krama, they move on to siksana krama, with the emphasis on perfecting the classical asana. This is taught in much the same way as Iyengar yoga and is usually taught to older teenagers and young adults.

Raksana Krama
This stage of yoga practice is for people who have many commitments - children, jobs, running a home and so on. It is designed to undo any damage caused by your day-to-day activities and to provide the necessary strength and energy to cope with life’s demands.

In The Viniyoga of Yoga, TKV Desikachar writes:

‘In planning an asana sequence, asanas are not placed one after another at random, but are arranged carefully. First the student should have a goal for the practice. In a classical situation, the goal is to achieve a specific asana, or to prepare for a precise pranayama practice.

Often, in actual situations, since many people are not ready to practice the classical postures and come to practice yoga for different reasons, this goal can be expressed in terms such as:

  • practicing a difficult posture, or doing a daily routine to keep fit
  • getting some specific physical benefits like becoming more flexible
  • gaining strength or stamina
  • improving some mental characteristics - patience, determination, achieving inner calm
  • reducing some pain. recovering from an injury, working towards better health.
  • preparing for a prayer, a meditation, a specific spiritual practice.’

People who start practicing yoga as adults are usually motivated by one of these reasons, and at KYM healthy adult beginners will usually be taught a raksana practice.

The central concept of raksana is that the practice should not aggravate any pre-existing conditions. Function is more important than form, so the way an asana looks is less important than its effect. This is interesting for me - coming from an Ashtanga background, where everyone has to fit the practice, rather than the other way around!

The asana practice during the first part of our course was very gentle, with a great deal of emphasis on breath. This turned out to be a great idea, since most of us Westerners are not accustomed to 38 degree heat with 80% humidity, and we would probably have passed out if the practice was vigourous. This is the essence of raksana - first do no harm.

As the weeks progressed, the practice got more strenuous, although still much calmer than what I am accustomed to.

Remarkably, instead of feeling tired after my practice, I felt rejuvenated and alert. My body and breath also started to change - my shoulders got more flexible, and my breath count doubled.

This raised an interesting question for me:
Is an extremely challenging practice either necessary or beneficial?

I haven’t come up with an absolute answer, as a challenging practice has its pluses - increased confidence, the endorphin rush, strength building ... Perhaps its just as they say at KYM - the practice should suit the individual, so for some of us challenging is great, and for some of us a quieter practice is better.

In the next few weeks, perhaps take time during your practice to reflect on what makes you feel energised, calm and alert, and what makes you feel edgy or unbalanced.


Anonymous said...

Hi Nadine,

Love the new blog!

I was wandering, how is astanga for children when it is so difficult?



Nadine Fawell said...

Great question Des!

Kids are naturally very flexible (and fearless) and they get bored fast, so the challenge of Ashtanga keeps them interested, and they require very little strength for the vinyasas etc since their bodies are so bendy. Basically the earlier they start, the easier it is for them. If you get a chance, check out the book Born Yogis - pictures of babies and toddlers doing yoga, too cute!