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Strength of Mind

Although we sometimes see the world in relativistic terms, in yoga, some teachings actually are wrong. It takes strength of mind to recognize the difference between correct and incorrect actions and to speak the truth.

By Aadil Palkhivala


Sometimes, of course, the instruction is simply inaccurate. Just as there are levels and nuances of truth, there are also levels of falsehood or inaccuracy. Some teachings are absolutely wrong. Incorrect actions are those that injure students, do not create any benefit for them, or lead them down an unyogic path.

Incorrect actions that injure students include relaxing in active poses or becoming active in relaxed poses. Some teachers, for example, instruct students to relax in Sirsasana, letting the spine collapse and just hanging in the pose; this is downright wrong, as it will injure the discs and damage the nerves in the neck and spine. One teacher even taught his students to hold their breath in Sirsasana for as long as they could and to come out when they couldn’t hold their breath any longer--again, downright wrong. This damaged one student’s eyes and caused another student to become nauseous and suffer dramatic increases in blood pressure.

Another absolutely incorrect instruction is to perform Sarvangasana aggressively. When done this way, the posture can damage the student's neck and agitate her nervous system. The pose is a quiet, gentle one, and fighting a gentle pose with an active action damages the nerves. Another common practice is to teach students an imbalanced series, such as one that excludes Sirsasana and Sarvangasana, both of which are critical to the balancing of the nervous system.

Though it is often taught, recommending Bhastrika pPranayama during postures is another example of an absolutely incorrect instruction. Doing poses such as Sirsasana and Sarvangasana with the "breath of fire" can damage the brain and the nerves of the spine and may actually lead to insanity. Another wrong action is closing the eyes while the nervous system is being stimulated or opening them while the nervous system is being released. This causes a conflict in the nervous system and eventually creates a sense of disorientation in the body, in the mind, and in life.

All of the instructions in the examples above are incorrect because they harm the student. A teacher’s instructions are also wrong when the student gains no benefit despite hard work. This often happens when the teacher knows only one or two sequences of poses but does not know how to teach refinements within those sequences. Repeating a sequence without going deeper and fine-tuning its movements leads to stagnation. Doing standing poses with the knees bent and with an inactive spine may not cause injury, but neither does it create benefit, because the standing poses are designed to draw energy into the spine through straight and active legs.

Other instructions are wrong because they lead the student down an unyogic path. Teaching a student to focus only on his third eye and not to balance this with going into the heart center, for example, aggrandizes the ego and restricts the cultivation of love. Some systems of yoga do not teach inversions, yet yoga’s most unique aspect is inversions. Sirsasana and Sarvangasana are called the King and Queen of asana. Not doing them eventually leads practitioners to become possessive and conceited. Therefore, a practice must be tempered with the inversions because they allow us to see things from a different viewpoint, both physically and psychologically.

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Reader Comments

Melissa

This is a great article and I hope you will write more like it. However, I find in many of my students, (most over 50 with no knowledge of yoga, and a lot of men!) that body awareness is so limited that it takes months just to get a basic understanding of what and why they are there in the first place! So subtle nuances are out of the question! Basic mobility is all they are striving for. I see so many articles geared to intermediate, mobile students. You can't have intermediate students without a good concept of beginning poses.
PLEASE keep writing articles that set up these parameters and help us keep our students safe.

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