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Yoga: a work in, not a workout.

When I opened the local newspaper months ago, I was happy to see a yoga article for the middle-aged woman. I was hopeful that the article would emphasize the richness of yoga and its accessibility to everyone. Unfortunately, the accompanying photo showed a middle-aged teacher using a lot of strength to do a complicated pose. There was strain and tension in the faces and bodies of both the students and the teacher. There are many styles of yoga, some with a more challenging physical practice and some with a gentle, internal approach. Svaroopa[R] Yoga is a style that emphasizes this gentle, internal approach. Yoga brings amazing internal changes. Everyone, regardless of ability or condition, is able to participate and receive all the gifts that yoga promises; even those who cannot do a single pose can practice yoga. No one need live in chronic physical and emotional tension. In a world of pushing and analyzing, wouldn't it be nice just to be, without all of the externals of life dominating our physical and emotional well-being?

Yoga is not about doing, it is about undoing. We are so much more than our minds and our bodies. One of the most powerful parts of Svaroopa yoga teacher training is the emphasis the training places on the philosophy behind yoga. The philosophy is woven throughout the asana practice. I love the physical practice of yoga, and for years I pushed my way through my practice, trying to get flexible and strong. I suffered from chronic illness and stress. Ultimately, I missed out on the experience of my own vastness. The physical practice of yoga is only one of many ways practice that yoga. What is yoga then, if not poses?

Yoga is the science of the Mind. Hatha Yoga is the physical practice of yoga using asanas (the poses). It is but one way to practice yoga. There are eight limbs of yoga and most can be practiced without even doing the first pose. They are Yama (a practice of abstinences), Niyama (a practice of observances), Asana (poses), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadi (contemplation, absorption). So, what is yoga and what is the point? The Yoga Sutras form an ancient text on the practice of yoga. It is not so much about how to change your life as how to change your state of being. There are about 194 sutras and the first is the most important. It says Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah: "Yoga is the stilling of the thought-waves of the mind." A way to understand this is to envision a clear lake. When the lake is clear you can see down to the bottom. When the wind whips up waves, the water of the lake becomes unclear, cloudy, and muddy. In the same way, when your mind is still and tranquil, it is clear and calm. Our entire world is based on our thoughts and mental attitudes.

If the practice of yoga is about the stilling of the mind, how do the poses work and why do they work? Yoga poses are to help you to open your body. When you open your body, your mind can become still. Every fear and negative thought you have goes directly into your body. This tightens your body and your mind. I remember asking Rama Berch (the originator of Svaroopa Yoga) how I could keep my body open after a deep teacher training. She suggested that I do about seven hours a day of asana. My response was that this was not practical in my life. She responded, "Then change the way you think," letting me know that my mind was tightening my body as much or even more than any physical activities. Of all of Yoga Sutras, only two are about asana. One of these says Sthira Sukham Asanam: "The pose (chosen for meditation) should be sweet and easy." When your body is healthy and comfortable, you can easily access deeper states of Consciousness. Yoga is designed to help you find that place within that is calm, even when you find life to be challenging. The ultimate purpose of Svaroopa yoga poses is to allow your body to sit comfortably in meditation without the physical distractions of pain and stiffness. Hatha yoga is a preparation of the physical body for meditation. The emphasis is not about getting fit and strong. The kind of fitness this gives you is on a much deeper level. It makes you fit for life. It's a work in, not a work out.


Yoga for Undoing

A pose as simple as Shavasana (yogas relaxation pose) can make changes in both your physical and emotional state. Lie on the floor with and lay your legs over some rolled blankets or pillows. Prop your feet so they are not dangling. If you do not have blankets, put your legs over a chair or a bench. Your back should be fiat on the floor. Your legs are about 1 inch apart. Your arms are a few inches away from your hips with your palms facing up. If your chin is jutting up, prop it with a small pillow under your head. If your mind is busy, you can put a blanket folded over your chest and even use an eye pillow. Settle progressively and allow the transition between active and non-active states of being. You can rest here for ten minutes or so. To come out, bring your knees to your chest and roll to one side.

Ellen Sichel R.Y.T. is a certified Svaroopa[R] Yoga teacher and Yoga Therapist who teaches at various studios. She is also qualified to teach privately or in classes gentle yoga, yoga for back pain, prenatal yoga and corporate chair yoga. Contact her at or 770-399-5546.
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Author:Sichel, Ellen
Publication:New Life Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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