It’s very popular these days to skip over the restraint practices in yoga (ethical vows, structured asana practice, breathing and concentration practices, lifestyle observations). Mastering them is the key to transforming yourself and your life through the practices of yoga and is an important facet of practice. Liberation as intended in classical yoga is a very specific experience. It’s not about crashing through to a new shape with the body even if it hurts. It’s not about “doing our own thing” without structure or discipline. It’s about being awakened into the experience of our spiritual wholeness. The restraint practices should not, and do not have to be dramatic or drastic. It might mean staying in a particular posture even if you are a little uncomfortable – maybe sometimes when you are a lot uncomfortable – in order to move beyond your sense of limitation. To practice yoga in this way does require a high degree of discernment – of learning to feel and experience the body and develop skillful means of working with our sensations. To some extent no teacher can really tell us that.
We used to work with the guideline that if the sensation is sharp you need to back off and approach the posture in a different way. For a dull softer discomfort we would generally stay in the posture and breathe ease into the form. The sensations we have are never black and white, so a guideline like this can’t be followed blindly.
We could consider this…if we bump into a tugging resisting sensation, then we are trying to expand in a place where there is currently contraction, and our work then is to find a way to allow the expansion. Breath is a good starting place, but it requires some attention to how one is breathing. How well you are able to receive an inhale? What conditions support that? Can you allow the lungs to expand? That quality of expansion will travel throughout the body as we allow it, and will gently open our places of deep holding and restrictions. To push against or fight against it will yield a different result. If we soften the mind and the heart and work with wisdom the experience of restraint transforms into its opposite – the experience of liberation. Tension melts and we are no longer restricted by tightness. This transformation of opposites into a unified experience is yoga – to yoke together.
The restraints imposed by the global experience of pandemic have resulted in massive shifts in the way we live and work and love. Training ourselves to be spacious and allowing in of those changes fosters our capacity for resilience and blossoming.