Is my 365 days of yoga a crazy challenge? Is yoga not about taking care of your body? Shouldn’t I go easy on myself? Is yoga not about listening to your body, so shouldn’t I give myself a break every now and then? Yes and no. Yoga is about listening to your body, but listening is something else then never ever challenging yourself.
Iyengar is one of the biggest yogi’s of our time. His practice of hatha yoga became very well known as a gentle approach; using props to help yourself in the correct way in an asana. So gentle as Iyengar yoga is, so hard was he on himself when he was young. He put heavy object on his legs in baddha konasana (butterfly pose) to have his leg open up more. His teacher Krisnamachara (the guru who brought yoga back to live, after it almost died out, because the English forbid it) focussed on hard work and discipline as well. Another disciple of Krisnamachara was Pathabi Jois, who refined a part of Krisnamacharas work to what is now known as Ashtanga. Krisnamahara and Pathabi Jois emphasis on hard work and getting your body in shape when we start with yoga. First get the vehicle ready, then the driver (mind) can use it.
Step two of the eight folded path of yoga are the Niyamas: the conducts of behaviour. Directly after Santosa follows tapas (diligent/passionate/hardworking) and svadhyaya (study of the self). As Iyengar puts it: ‘’Through tapas a yogi creates a strong body, a strong mind and a strong character.” Svadhyaya is the study of the self, but how can we study ourselves if we never challenge ourselves?
Again in the words of Iyengar: “For a yogi his body is a temple. He knows that neglecting the needs of his body is denying life. A yogi knows heaven is as well within as of him. Where ends the body and begins the soul? Where ends the soul and begins the mind? They can’t be seen as separate units. So a yogi never neglects his body, near will he put it under too much strain. He cherishes it, because he knows his body is a way to reach enlightenment.”
Straining is something different than training. Straining is wearing the body out. Training is making it stronger. For some reason in the West we confuse yoga with relaxation. We confuse yoga with taking it easy. That’s not what it’s in India. (Nor is yoga the same as asana.) If we want to improve our bodies, we must challenge them. Our bodies are made to move; not to sit still all day behind computers, tablets and mobile phones and our bodies are not made to feed it sugar, Coca Cola and other shit. Nor are our bodies made for just stretching. We have to put some power in our asanas as well. And not just one day a week. If we want to improve on the path of asana, we have to train our bodies at least three times a week and if we want to improve on the path of yoga we should do pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation as well.
For a true sadhaka (a yoga student or someone on a quest) yoga is a way of life. A way to improve ones self. That asks for devotion, that asks for tapas, that asks for Svadhyaya, that asks for a regular practice: Sadhana. That asks for a day to day practise.
That doesn’t say you have to do asana every day. There are a lot of other options: pranayama, meditation, mantra singing. So I do give myself a break every now and then. If my body asks for it, I will skip an asana practice, but that doesn’t mean I have to skip doing yoga. I can still do meditation, pranayama or (try to) sing mantra’s. Than I’m still working on my quest.