Finely tuning our practice to provide us with what we need and to remove what we don't is an art form. Once we have learnt to listen, keeping this vigilant attention can be a struggle if we are not truly connecting to what we are doing.
There are so many approaches to yoga. This ensures that we never get stuck, or bored. There is much to be said for practicing in times of difficulty, when we feel sick, when we feel tired, when we are anxious... yoga serves as a balm, a soother, an equaliser. But once we are in a state of balance we move into a different stage of practice; should we push our bodies harder? sometimes its good to stir things up, to feel intensely, to uncover the hidden emotions. Our physical weaknesses show us correlates on the level of feeling.
Last week I went to a workshop with the legendary teacher Sri Dharma Mittra who teaches with humour and intensity and has done for over sixty years. I spend much of my teaching life asking my students to hold back which seems to be the opposite approach to Dharma's. He pushes and challenges and reminds us that "what brings happiness to our minds? our achievements". Whether this be wrapping your leg behind your head from a standing position remains an open question.
We need to understand our own path, when our direction shifts a fraction how does that sit? what changes? When we change our approach what does that bring up? Every now and then push your body; go for the splits, the extreme back bend, injure yourself. what on earth? did I just say that? yes! we are not our bodies. We become so precious about our injuries , but the fear that we are being shown can teach us so much!
I feel that this is in tune with the practice of many of the ancient yogis. The ones who mollified the body, the ones who fasted, who slept in sirsasana (headstand), who held their arm overhead for years at a time as a means to connect with the transcendental nature of reality, the ones that pushed and pushed and pushed to reach that sense of connection.
Myself I lean more toward the teachings of the buddha. The nature of reality may be suffering but we can overcome suffering through presence, through observing the lack of inherent existence. When we push the body so hard, we often fall into the trap of the ego; as opposed to realising that we are not our bodies, we become obsessed and attached to the very thing we are trying to be rid of. We are not just proud of our achievements, we cling to them. And if we can no longer wrap our leg behind our heads, we suffer.
Which is why I encourage my students to hold back, as long as there is presence, notice what impels you to force and push. As my teacher Tias Little says: "beware of your pusher side". A moment of presence is an achievement indeed. Or as Dharma said, "don't overestimate the power of your attention".