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How Flexible Are You?

Stiffness is an epidemic. Yoga is the solution.

One of the definitions of yoga that is found in the Amarakosha, an ancient Sanskrit lexicon, is upaya. Upaya means, ‘a tool.’ A tool is an instrument that allows one to obtain a goal. A hammer is a tool because it allows someone to drive a nail into a piece of wood. A scissor is a tool because is allows someone to split paper or fabric. In a similar way,  yoga is a tool to make one feel good. It is no surprise that in our highly stationary and overworked culture, yoga has become a tool to undo such patterning.

Was this always the intention behind yoga?

Source texts from within the yoga tradition describe different results to the practices of yoga. We will look specifically at the application of a posture and breath based practices. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a 15th century work, Swami Svatmarama explains:

Haṭhasya prathamāṅgatvādāsanam pūrvamucyate |

Kuryāt tadāsanam sthairyamārogyam cāngalāghavam ||

[HYP 1.17]

“Yoga practice bestows onto the practitioner steadiness, health and lightness of the limbs.”

This perfectly defines what most modern day practitioners are aiming to accomplish; a body that is strong and steady, freedom from sickness and a flexibility.

In an earlier text called the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written around the 4th century, Patanjali describes the results of the yoga practice in terms of mind:

Tataḥ dvandva anabhigātaḥ |

[YSP II.48]

“[Through yoga practice] one is no longer disturbed by the pairs of opposites.”

Pairs of opposites refers to like and dislike, happy and sad, pleasure and pain, etc. Yoga establishes not just a fit body but a mind that is much more lenient. Leniency from a mental standpoint is not separate from a structurally. If we were to imagine someone who is ‘uptight,’ we understand not only their attitude but also their appearance and how they carry themselves.

There are other texts that point to similar ideas; texts such as the Yoga Rahasya of Nathamuni, and the Yoga Yajnavalkya.  In the Bhagavad Gita, one primary goal of yoga is detachment. Similar to both the Pradipika and the Sutras, to be less attached is to be more flexible.

Flexibility has many layers. On the most gross level, it is how we are able to move our body. On a more subtle layer, flexibility is of our thoughts. The framework that we are functioning from tends to be rigid. The decisions we make and how we think come from a set of patterns, stories and perception that are largely antiquated.  When our mind lacks movement, just like the body, we become stuck.

What yoga proposes is that there is a way to loosen this stiffness and free us from struggle, both physically and mentally. This process takes time. It comes from returning to our mat, following the breath and listening to what is here and now.

 

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