How many times did you see a yogasana on social media and thought I want to do that or I can definitely not do that?
All those Instagram pictures intimidating you with all those hashtags #handstand #headstand #crowpose etc. Add to that some poses which look straight out of a contortionists routine. It might have started as a western obsession to define Yoga and now slowly been seen in India as well but this gymnastics which is amazing to achieve, does not come risk free.
As a yoga teacher, I practice asanas with intention of being self aware and for the wellness of mind and body. This is my goal towards my students as well. However this was not me when I started my practice, Vairagya (non-attachment) from the asanas took time and understanding of yoga itself is a never ending journey.
It’s very common to find someone walk in a class with just few classes in and show a picture of an asana wanting to emulate the same. While I do believe everyone can do a version of every asana, I do not encourage breaking your body for this. We see students huffing and puffing and stretching and groaning as they try to straighten the knees in utthita hasta padangusthasana (Extended hands to big toe pose) but all we end up flexing is our ego which precedes all logic and ignores all cues that our body is telling us, even what the teacher is saying. Yoga teachers and long time practitioners are also guilty of this. This is a very human and subconscious behaviour which can be easily checked with constant reminders to self.
Tips to a safe practice for long term health benefits:
Did you do your Sukshmakriyas (warm up stretches) ?
Before you strain your wrists in arm balances, make sure you do the rotations and stretches to avoid the chances of injury. This also helps you warm up the muscles which will assist you to protect the joints from unnecessary pressure.
Are you Breathing ?
My guru, Yogacharya Bharath Shetty, would always ask this to the class because he wanted us to remind ourselves to breath as we tried to push our bodies in twists and binds. Breathing into the pose relaxes the tensed by muscles and gives way to go deeper into the asana.
Read my recent post on the relationship between movement and breath.
What’s important to you the pose or your health?
The biggest difference between Yogasanas and Contortion is that Yoga strives for wellness of mind, body and soul and the asanas are not the goal but a journey. Contortion on the other hand is an art where the poses are the art pieces. Many contortionists practice Yoga to strengthen their mind and body for their performance.
Try a variation
I am the biggest advocate of variations as they provide the same benefits without compromising with your spine or alignment of your hips and shoulders. It also prepares you to achieve the complete expression of the asana much quicker.
A consistent and safe practice of Yogasanas will not only make you flexible enough to try fancy splits but also make sure you are strong and aware about your body as you get try to come out of it.