Friday, August 10, 2012

24) What sort of "Practice" will help in yoga ?


Couple of days back I read an article where an ex-Indian Hockey Captain who had won Hockey Gold medal for India in 1980 Olympics , blasting the current Indian Hockey team for playing poorly in the London Olympics 2012 claiming that the real reason why the Indian Hockey team is getting royally thrashed from all teams is due to the fact that Indian Hockey players "lack the basics"  and that they need to "learn the basics first "before they contemplate on entering the Indian team and all the basics must be learnt at a Junior level and not after they enter the Indian squad for Olympics .

Now Imagine an entire team going to Olympics with out proper skill in Basics and getting royally thrashed there from other teams . It is not that the Indian Hockey team were casual contenders for Olympics , they did prepare seriously and all of the players were committed but when it comes to competing with the best , all their loop holes were exposed and they turned out to be failures .
The same thing applies to even Yoga practice .  There is lot of talk on practice - "Ounce of Practice equals tons of theory "- Swami Sivananda , " Yoga is 99% practice ,1 % theory"- Pattabhi Joise  and this is mechanically being repeated by their respective followers and they enter in to a brute practice and while the smarter ones are able to do an intelligent practice and achieve success while the vast majority get injured and confused as to where the mistake is .
Practice no doubt is very essential to enhance the skill in any activity be it Sports , Cooking , Yoga ,Music etc etc but what sort of practice is what we need to understand .The quality of practice matters a lot than quantity . You can practice Yoga  99% wrongly and will reach only a dead end while another person even if he does  !% practice rightly will be able to take the next step to reach 2% level and slowly build up to 100% . This is where the role of a teacher comes in .The teacher must take care to see the student leans the basics first and be thorough with the basics before he goes to the next level . Now the question is what does "basics mean" in the context of Yoga ? It will vary from one style to another style and from teacher to teacher . This is a very subjective area and I see no consensus on this issue . That is one of the reason why I stick to the principles of "Anatomy and Kinesiology" when it comes to defining what is the basics with regard to movement . This is independent of any particular school of Yoga or of any particular teacher . This is my way of looking at things in Yoga . Other people will have their own interpretations on this issue .
If we look at the Videos of master Yoga practitioners we will see their perfect mastery of the entire body and lot of intelligence and grace in their practice .No doubt they had years of practice to fine tune their skills but even when the practiced , the practiced with "lot of intelligence" .They had their basics right and hence they could execute the postures with perfect grace and elegance . 
So in conclusion : Practice is necessary for perfection but that practice must be intelligent and must train the students in the basics first before taking him to higher levels . Mechanical and un-intelligent  practice will never help you master any skill perfectly .I conclude by giving the quote of the famous Yoga Teacher Derek Ireland on Yoga practice  : Your Yoga practice is less about how much you can do and more about how deeply you can do little .
So quality matters in the end .

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

23) Yoga or Movement Science ?

Recently I had an old yoga friend of mine who visited me and he was stunned to see the many books related toAnatomy , Kinesiology , Movement therapy along with the regular  books on Yoga in my book shelf and he surprisingly asked pointing to other books ( i.e Kinesiology , Movement therapy etc ) "What are they for ?" . I told him they are there to make me a better Yoga practitioner and better Yoga teacher . He asked me aren't the regular Yoga books/Yoga DVD  that I  have more than enough to give me   a solid knowledge to be a better Yoga practitioner and Yoga teacher and I told him that no doubt those books,DVDs  are very excellent but they have lot of gaps and those gaps are not the fault of the authors of those books but fault by the way Yoga is being taught .He could not understand by what I said .
I told him that when we learn a language say English , did we start reading the English Classic books  from the very beginning ? No . What we did was we first learnt to read the alphabets , then learnt to read   simple words  from the alphabets , then started reading simple sentences from those words and went on to read complex sentences , paras , then a single page , then a chapter , then simple books and slowly built ourselves to read Rich English Classics .Once we have learnt the fundamentals of reading a word , sentance , para , page ,chapter etc we do not require a teacher and we can read any book on our own .
But in Yoga how is the learning done ?
All Yoga are based on a particular style - Sivananda , Iyengar , Ashtanga , Bikram , Anusara etc and these have a set pattern and we start learning them from scratch directly and we need the guidance of a teacher for the same .Nothing wrong in this approach as long as the student has solid knowledge of the fundamentals of anatomy and kinesiology ,so that he is able to intelligently execute the postures without injuring himself  .But how many students have knowledge of anatomy and kinesiology to do this ? They are very much dependent on the instructions of the teacher and it is not possible for the teacher to give complete comprehensive instructions to each and every posture ( the Iyengar System follows the methodology ) and even if the teacher gives the student cant really follow all those instructions in real time ,with the result he gets injured while doing the posture and gets demoralized and stops coming to the class or moves to another teacher or another style .
But what if the student is taught the basics of Movement itself without referring to any particular style . This is what the Science of Kinesiology or Movement Science is . Start first by teaching the student how to lubricate his joints , how to move his spine , how to work on his core , how to unwind all the tense muscles ,how to strengthen the muscles , how to understand the limits of his body and limits of his movements, what are the dangerous movements  etc etc . These are the fundamental knowledge a student must be taught irrespective of which Movement he is going to practice i.e Dance , Yoga , Tai Chi , Pilates etc .Once this knowledge is there then the student will really enjoy his practice and which every yoga style he chooses to practice it does not matter as he has his fundamentals very clear and not only will he do a practice that is safe but there will also be lot of grace in his practice as he now practices listening to his body and there is lot of mindfullness and intelligence in the way he practices .
Most of senior Yoga  teachers advice their students to "listen to their bodies" while practicing in order not to injure themselves but then they forget  to mention the fact that "listening to the body" is not as simple a skill as it sounds and that it is "an art in itself" and while some people have the natural skills to listen to their bodies but for the vast majority this skill needs to be taught from the beginning .
I have watched the videos of many seasoned Yoga practitioners and I found that those who had lot of grace , elegance in their practice were those who really understood their own body inside out and those who came from a dance background had this quality in extra .
So in conclusion : If you have the natural instinct of understanding how your body works and moves then you are very blessed and can easily pick up your yoga practice and will have a fairly injury free practice but if you do not have this natural instinct then better acquire the knowledge of your body and its various movements through the serious study of Anatomy and Kinesiology or work with a teacher who has this knowledge, otherwise you will end up injuring yourself and will either keep jumping to various other yoga styles or yoga teachers without any success and finally drop everything in frustration . This applies not just to Yoga but any movement related science like Tai Chi , Pilates ,Dance ,Aerobics etc .So when it comes to teaching Yoga ,I would suggest that first students are taught the basics of Movement Science and then Yogic postures are introduced step by step .
As for myself ,I have no natural instinct to understand my body and hence started to seriously study the Science of Anatomy and Kinesiology to educate myself as to how best I can safely do my own practice as well as teach my students the safe way of doing . This is one of the reasons why I have cut off from most of my Yoga teaching assignments to invest time in my own self study and practice of   the Science of Anatomy and Kinesiology and related Movement therapies like Fieldenkaris Method , Heller Work , Pilates ,Tai Chi etc to equip me with the right tools and techniques that can help me understand my own body much better and also teach me the art of doing the postures safely and in a very efficient manner .
This is quite a tough and long journey and I am willing to go through it slowly and steadily .I will keep sharing my insights from time to time in this journey in this blog plus my another blog related to Movement therapy itself .