A question arose during the Asana focus workshop I taught last weekend that encapsulated a key consideration for those of us who practice yoga. A student asked: ‘for how long should I hold in virabhadrāsana II?’ simple enough, yet the implications go deep. As an instructor, I like to give clear guidance and so, taking a leaf from B.K.S Iyengar’s book, I answered: 30 seconds to a minute.
I was very happy when another student took the line of questioning further: ‘I’m curious,” she said ‘about when a long hold, which we may feel compelled to practice, gets in the way of the ever-important value of ahimsa or non-violence.’ What I believe is that it is this curiosity that keeps the yogi present. This very process of inquiry into whether we are pushing too hard or breaking down restrictive barriers; embodying self-compassion by coming out of a posture sooner or retracting from a necessary process of purification through intensity.
When we practice discernment in our asana we are working out from whence comes the motivation to withdraw or remain. Discernment is discriminating wisdom, separating truth from non-truth, that which is conducive toward our liberation from that which is not. Are we being driven by the ego with its pursuit of measurable goals or by our higher self that so relishes the present moment? This sensation, is it pain or intensity?
Highly evolved yogis have endured excruciating intensity to overcome their identification with the physical body, the mere mortal shell that transports us on this finite journey. From the other side of their mortifications they report on what is really true, really real. The true self, they say, discriminates not. The true self, they say, is beyond good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant. So, while we measure the seconds in our warrior II pose, please let’s remember that none of this is real, just the remembering is. And in our remembering we travel closer.