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Sthira Sukham Asanam

Observing Guruji

I spent the month of August in Pune and during one open practice had occasion to observe Guruji holding Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana for several minutes. I was doing forward bends and several times glanced across as I changed sides. First I was struck by the incredible lift in the posture and then by the stability. Each glance seemed to reveal exactly the same posture. Other practitioners would have shifted visibly even if watched only for a short time, adjusting the hands or feet or re-lifting the back.

The same evening Prashant, Guruji’s son, was taking the advanced class in backbendings. (I was in the class though it made me feel very non-advanced.) During head-balance Prashant talked about our approach to the practice of Yoga and how we completely miss the point.

He told us that when we make constant adjustments, corrections and improvements, we are not doing Yoga. He defined the terms used: adjustment is to prevent a potential mistake, correction is correcting an actual mistake and improvement is ambition. All three mean disturbance and movement. Movement is not Asana. Asana is similar replication.

He explained that the body is a living organism and has to renew itself, changing moment to moment, but what is renewed should be the same as what it replaces. He used the analogy of filming a statue and playing back the film: the film runs but the image does not move.

During the supported backbends he asked us to look at Guruji curving over a chair and observe how his cheeks and mouth were relaxing down. We try to imitate the external shape of his poses but can we make our head and breath like his?

In the backbends Prashant continued: if we as experienced practitioners try to improve our posture, it is not Yoga, it is aspiration. It is the opposite of Asteya (the yama of non-stealing or non-theft). Nobody does a perfect pose. If we run after the perfect posture, it moves away twice as fast. In our backbends he asked us to do our optimum pose not our maximum pose.

When we correct we go from one mistake to another. Prashant excepted beginners from this, as they are have to learn correct actions. They are like children who are allowed to make mistakes. We should be like adults in Yoga. As I struggled not to struggle in the backbends I recalled the image of Guruji from the morning practice. It was the ideal illustration of Prashant’s point.