We all know yoga is a mental practice. After all, according to sutras 1.2, Yogas Chittra Vritti Narodaha, we do yoga to calm the fluctuations of the mind. To settle the body and to settle the mind. But, when you do a physical practice like ashtanga or power or even many vinyasa flow practices, things move so quickly that it’s often easy to focus on moving and pay slightly less attention the exact alignment. Take a slower practice like Iyengar, and it’s all about checking the type A personality at the door.
Normally, the ashtangi in me would argue this point. I know when I hold each pose for those five breaths, I’m thinking about the asana and the breath and the dristi. That’s a lot to think about, and those five breaths can go fast. Being that ashtanga is what it is, when those five breaths are up, it’s time to inhale again and move into the next posture.
That’s why I say, there may be something to be said for incorporating a very slow practice like an Iyengar-style practice, where the goal is less about moving and more about getting the alignment just right, into your repertoire.
Doing this has so many benefits.
For one, you can take that knowledge into every other practice you do, regardless of style, the asana is the asana – at least for the most part. So, when you take the time to learn a posture correctly, it can only serve to help your more physical style of practice.
Second, during a slower practice, the body doesn’t get exhausted, which can lead to a whole host of other problems. You don’t end up wrenching your body or forcing it to go further than it really should be going just because you want to master a posture. I have to imagine, this helps to eliminate the injury that was discussed ad nauseam when that NYT article came out. Yes, we all know we’re supposed to listen to our bodies, but when you’re doing a physically challenging practice and the adrenaline and cortisol are pumping, the drive to master a posture can be heightened.
Finally, there is a different degree of mental challenge. In doing a slower class, time passes differently – not necessarily slower, just different, and for a type-A personality it’s a challenging ‘different’. The practitioner is forced to slow down, to listen to the teacher, to really listen to their body. The focus is on minor adjustments, not grand movements.
This practice was not about mastering anything. It was simply about being present and just being. It was challenging, but it was definitely rewarding.
I’m not going to lie, I may have to force myself to do more of these slower classes, but the type-A in me (or maybe I should say the people around me who have to deal with the type-A in me) can certainly benefit from it.