Structural Yoga Therapy
Chapter 33 - A Complete Classical Yoga Practice
It is important to know your starting point in yoga. Without knowing this it is at best difficult to evaluate your progress. By knowing yourself and making a regular commitment to re-evaluate yourself you can know that you are making progress in the multitude of layers of your body/mind/Spirit that can express the natural harmony of your True Self. Continue to allow yourself to be re-appraised by colleagues, teachers or even the Yogini you meet on the street. By exercising self-study (svadhyaya) you can watch your freedom in Yoga grow being nurtured by your commitment to yourself.
I recognize three levels of students in Yoga. These levels are not determined by flexibility but rather on a number of factors that reveal a change to the total personality. This chart summarizes those phases of progress. You might find that according to my summary you are a beginner in some areas, regular student in other areas or even a committed student in one or two areas. These differences are natural. Yet I would encourage you to aim to stabilize the practice until your Yoga practice (sadhana) has become more fully integrated with the rest of your life.
In the same manner that the preceding factors have levels so also I find levels for the mastery of each of the techniques presented within this book. This is a summation of all the practices for the Structural Yoga Therapy process.
1 - Joint Freeing Series is first done to evaluate joint freedom and learn anatomy. Regular practice maintains limber joints and improves circulation. Committed practice will shift attention to the energy level of pranayama practice to create a pranic flow through the pranamayakosha.
2 - Strength exercises are first done to evaluate for potentially weakened muscles and analyze spinal freedom. Regular practice keeps the spine supple and will develop stamina in infrequently used muscles. Committed practice will eliminate weakened muscle tone and the spine will be free to comfortably hold many variations of the same asana.
3 - Yoga asanas are practiced to increase sensitivity to stressed areas, distinguish stretch from strengthen, and tone overall body. Regular practice returns the body to improved posture by working to an aligned, stable base of support. Committed practice will focus on Yoga Sutra II, 47 to perfect the poses, gradually uncovering a feeling of connectedness within the natural currents of sensation that arise while the posture is held longer.
4 - Pranayama is given to beginners to heighten capacity to be self-observant. Regular practice enables students to remain ever mindful of the wave of the breath to be more open during daily activities. Committed practice reveals the omnipresent energy of prana and its ever-present mantra sound.
5 - Mudras for the beginner are an extra challenge in self-observation. Regular practice expands the areas of the body one can simultaneously be aware of. Committed practice connects the mind to the energy body and to the surroundings immediately.
6 - Bandhas for beginners develop the tone of the pelvic floor and the diaphragm, and freedom of the neck. Regular practice stimulates reflexes to lower heart rate and control elevated blood pressure thus relieving physical stress. Committed practice heightens the transition into meditation.
7 - Meditation for beginners challenges their capacity to remain centered and self-observant. Regular practice brings meditation insights into daily life. Committed practice develops into a personal spiritual practice to connect the student to themselves and Higher Power/Divine Presence.
Yoga Principles and Spiritual Guidelines
Underlying this method is a commitment to practice within the guidelines established in the textbook of Classical Yoga, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. From practicing in this manner I have noticed certain basic principles that keep me focused in presenting Structural Yoga Therapy.
1. The highest spiritual attainment is the experience and sharing of laughter and Supreme Joy.
2. Yoga postures can be perfected by the recollection of one's bodily experience during the Grace filled moments of step l. The teachings that come in this manner take precedence over the priority of perfecting the outward form of the poses.
3. The postures are perfected in a systematic manner -- first priority is to restore natural flexibility/range of motion, second is to maintain symmetry in muscle strength, third to create an energetic flow which leads to the experience of naturally arising spontaneous meditation.
4. Breath/pranayama training is for the purpose of facilitating steadiness during motion, release of suppressed emotions and thoughts, and to cultivate the state of "Great respect and love".
The process of Structural Yoga is therefore presented as part of a larger scheme aimed at being content and fulfilled through self-realization. It is very important when practicing any type of physical or hatha Yoga that you remember yoga. Don't get so caught up in the "determined effect" - the struggle - that you lose awareness of harmony, union, being at peace with your Self.
So how can we keep the reminding ourselves that the process of hatha is to serve the deeper process of yoga? There are several major guidelines I'd like to share which have served me:
1. Remain a beginning student
By being open to learn and staying inquisitive, your mind remains alert and clear, free from trappings of idealism and preconceived views. One delightful story elaborates on this point.
Two monks had been walking in silence for many weeks on a pilgrimage to see their teacher. They came to a stream and discovered a young, quite beautiful woman stranded on their side wondering how to cross without being carried away with the current. The beginner monk offered to carry her across on his back. Together the three of them succeeded in fording the stream. The woman left on a different path to visit her family.
The elder monk was getting distressed at how his student had broken his vow of brahmacharya - avoiding physical contact with women. His mind became heated as he struggled whether to tell their teacher and if so how to put the novice's failure. Finally he felt compelled to scold the novice. He said how could you break your vows of celibacy? Have you no mindfulness? What got into your head that you thought you could touch that lovely woman and hold her so tightly?
After the elder's indignation was spent, the novice replied "I put her down on the side of the stream, why are you still carrying her so tightly?' The elder couldn't hear it and told the novice to leave his company because he was impure.
Upon arriving separately at the teacher's abbey, the story was told to the master. The master sent the elder to clean the kitchen while he spoke in private to the novice. Touching the novice sweetly and tenderly, he bestowed upon him with his secret touch his blessings and told him he was ready to be on his own. He said you could only be hindered by such companionship at this abbey. The novice was sent to a foreign land to establish his own way - the way of the novice.
2. Seek out the presence of a living master
The word "Buddha" comes from the Sanskrit root "buddh", which means to reveal, to understand. As we remain a beginner, we can see how life reveals its secrets. Until the master teacher comes to us, the beginner's attitude provides the means of revealing secrets even from the mouths of fools. The process of seeking implies a reaching for the light of knowledge. As we reach from hatha, raja Yoga becomes revealed. Raja also means, "to shine, to illumine" in the same way as "Buddh" means "to clarify." Raja Yoga comes as an illumination of the mind, not from practice but rather from openness to what pre-exists before, during, and after training.
The process of meditation prepares you for meeting the master. Patanjali says that one of the easiest " ways to meditation is to let your mind rest on a Self-realized being who has transcended human passions and attachments." (Yoga Sutras I, 37). In keeping the company of such a mentor, the mind becomes calm and serene, and the teacher's experience and knowledge becomes yours.
3. Contemplate writings that uplift you
I entered Yoga practice from a book. I have much regard for how the message, even the presence of yoga, can be conveyed through an excellent teacher's clear communication of their experience. There are many writings, not necessarily scriptures, which can keep you focused on your process. I recommend reading an inspirational chapter or sutra every night just before bed. This is the ideal time to absorb lofty impressions into the deep consciousness. Some of my personal favorites are cited in the recommended readings at the end of this book.
4. Keep good company
By following the first three guidelines, you will be brought to "good company"- people who seek to be loving, aware, at peace with themselves. Sometimes Self-observation brings you closer to people along the path, sometimes your spiritual seeking (sadhana) leaves you alone. Be true to yourself and in so doing sadhana will manifest of its own nature. Sadhana means literally keeping the Truth. If you can keep good company inwardly, then outwardly good company will be attracted to you and come of its own accord.
Above all else, be happy and practice smiling.