I found a book at the thrift store today that was about yoga. It caught my eye from the bin and realizing it contained American yoga teachers I flipped through its pages and decided to purchase it for the library.
Looking at the section on Erich Schiffmann it quoted Erich as saying that he only heard Krishnamacharya say three things. The one that caught me was, “yoga is not mechanical.” I’m unsure of the context or how the phrase passed Krishnamcharya’s lips but it struck me.
All during classes I’m talking students through the physical. Move your knee here, turn your arm this way, reach towards the mirror. They sweat, they struggle and often they laugh. In leading them through practice I’ve always told them it’s your yoga, not mine. I’m leading them through what I know of yoga asana. This physical manifestation is very mechanical. Iyengar was often criticized for this in his teaching of yoga but I find the paradox contained within yoga practice keeps me coming back for more.
An asana may be physical but it’s not mechanical. There are pieces and parts, anatomy moving here and there but in the end what do you feel? Done without feeling yoga is just exercise. Done with feeling yoga not only helps keep you in shape, it can teach you who you really are. It’s a path. The discovery of where it leads is the fun part, the journey.
Focusing on the anatomy of a yoga pose is a fun exercise for me. With an anatomy background I enjoy knowing what my body is doing in certain poses but it will never replace the feeling. In a deep forward bend where I feel calm and serene do I consider my hamstrings? Usually I’m just lost in some feeling, some sensation of what is going on. Merge. Breathe.
Excluding the feeling of a pose is a little like discussing love and explaining that dopamine and oxytocin are released and promote the sense of being in love. It can help explain the science and mechanics but does nothing to express the feeling of having your lover embraced in your arms.
Long term the practice gives you intuition. I stop thinking so much and start feeling to the point that of the available actions, I choose the one that suits the situation best. Improv as life. Do your yoga asana with feeling and the real yoga begins. I’ll see you soon in class.