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Be firm and light, be present

Have you ever found yourself struggling in a yoga pose? Perhaps while back-bending in Urdhva Dhanurasana (wheel) or balancing on one hand and foot in Vasisthasana (side plank)? Could you hear your breathing becoming more labored and your whole body shakes from all the muscular efforts summoned to access the pose and stay in it? Well I hate to break you the news, but that was not yoga you were doing. If anything, it is closer to weightlifting than yoga.

The bad news is: eventually, within a few seconds, you get really tired from forcing yourself to do a pose you are not ready for, and start to become really frustrated, or even feel like a failure.  You may become traumatized of that posture and instinctively feel the need to visit the toilet or retreat into a child pose the next time the teacher calls it out in a class. Or worse, you may even decide that yoga is not for you, and move on to the next workout fad. The really bad news is: you may – and usually will - injure yourself. 

The beauty about an ancient practice of mind, body and soul is that it is not all about physical prowess. Yoga, which derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj” (to yoke or to unite) is a state of balance and harmony. However flexible or strong you are, this state is not achieved if you lose the quality of your breath  - that smooth and seamless inhale and exhale – or if you get angry at or ashamed of yourself for not being able to keep your Vrksasana (tree pose) wobble-free when all the others seem to do it effortlessly. The same goes if you are one of those yoga students who can’t resist checking out what and how the rest of the room is doing during a practice. 

Consider this:

no one is watching you (except for your teacher) and no one is judging you.  So replace self-consciousness with the awareness of yourself. There is a reason why the first few minutes of a yoga class are often dedicated to sitting or standing in silence with your breath. It is to cut off your links to the external world for a while and to encourage you to go inside and find your center. It is to get you connected to your breath, the source of life, and to your physical as well as mental body.


It is a practice for you to be present.

Yoga Sutra, the ancient text on the discipline of yoga, sums up the quality of the practice aptly in Sankrit: sthirasukhamasanam. Sthira means steadiness or alertness, sukha means lightness or ease, and asana means yoga poses (although literally it means to sit, as in meditation).  You should aim for this quality of being firm but comfortable in your poses, and that means knowing where you are in your practice. As much as it is important to let your teacher know of any injuries and medical conditions before a class, it is also important for you to accept your own present limitation.

For example, in a Marichyasana C or seated twist pose, the full expression of the posture is to have your elbow placed on the outside of the opposite knee to deepen the pose. But if you force yourself to do this when your twist is not deep enough, you would end up with a rounded spine and restricted breathing space, and you would miss out on all the benefits of a twist.
Instead of struggling to place your elbow to the outside of the opposite knee, why not just hug the knee and concentrate on lengthening the spine on every inhale and deepening the twist on the exhale.
Similarly for Urdhva Dhanurasana, if your chest is not open enough, the pose – which actually feels light and liberating - becomes very muscular and strenuous. So practice Setu Bhanda Sarvangasana (bridge) first and use props as recommended by your teacher. And if you don’t have the strength for the full expression of Vasisthasana, lower one knee to the floor or place the upper foot in front of the other leg.

There will come a time when your body open up, your strength grow, and, before you know it, you are able to express the poses effortlessly and gracefully without sacrificing your breath or hamstring.

Yoga is a practice that liberates. Remember that the next time you find yourself straining in a pose. 


*Devi Asmarani enjoys observing the transformative impact of yoga in her life,

and loves to share it with others through her teaching and writing.


Keyword: Jakartadoyoga, Yoga, Yoga Studio, Jakarta, Indonesia