About Doing Challenging Poses, its Benefits and Risks

yoga downPeople complain about how stuffed social media and the web 2.0 have become right now with all the self-centered yogic rants, flashy photos and self-worshipping tutorial videos of yoga ‘gurus’ and practitioners. But deep inside, to a certain extent they keep their admiration of it for themselves. Heaven knows…

Oddly enough, most simple and less challenging yoga poses provide greater benefits, claim some. Also, the most challenging poses are often not worth the risks, say some. I don’t know what to believe. Which poses they refer to? There should be more in-depth study and discussion on this matter.

Some people criticize those who keep doing challenging yoga poses as “too physical” or “superficial”. But how dangerous is doing a challenging pose actually? It depends on various factors. Mostly on its stress caused in vital organs, which eventually affects our health in general.

A yoga teacher I know mentioned it’s all about our ego. By doing challenging yoga poses, we try to satisfy our thirsty egos. We don’t care about the risks – whether it can break our neck, ruin our hamstrings, or rip our quads – because what matters most is how it can impress people on social media. “Look at him doing that or this? Is he out of his mind? Twisted that way? Folded in a way no normal human can do? Pure awesomeness.”

Yes, I am one of them. I need to feed my ego at times. Because yoga makes me someone with certain competence. Someone with uniqueness. And this makes my self esteem soar. For someone with no athletic skills like me, it means a lot. Yoga provides us this self-gratification. I know, however, that there needs to be limits here.

There are in fact several points to know about challenging poses as I recall from several chats I had with a friend.

Firstly, it’s all about propaganda, campaign. A friend told me that based on the history of yoga practice, challenging poses are done for the sake of propaganda. He mentioned the legendary yogi Krishnamacharya once stated he did the extreme asanas in front of the Maharaja of Mysore. This also would be great opportunities and moments for photographers to capture because challenging poses are quite rare to witness because it takes perseverance and significant amount of time to master them. That way, more and more people are interested in learning yoga. Admit it, humans are visual creatures easily stunned and amazed by unusual objects. Despite that, Krisnamacharya always advised his students should always do simple poses every single day or in their daily practice. Do simple poses which provide benefits for the body for daily practice, he said. Challenging poses, therefore, are meant to impress and persuade people to practice yoga. That totally makes sense to me.

In my case, I too get inspired to deepen my practice after seeing yoga photos. If I can conquer the challenging poses, that’s lucky of me. But if I can’t, I know it’s time to just relax, and meditate, examining myself, and becoming less competitive and more forgiving to myself, respecting my own boundaries. I won’t hurt myself just because I want to master certain poses. So when the Yang element (the more competitive and agressive) of me declines, the Yin elemen arises. Both create balance in me. So far that’s how I practice yoga.

Secondly, extreme poses were usually done by yogis circa 200-300 years ago in India for financial purpose. They were so financially deprived they needed to feed themselves, earn money by doing challenging poses on streets or places where crowds gathered. So if you can do extreme poses, especially these days when people are excited to learn yoga because of its fitness benefits, you’re more likely to gain financial profits.  Yet, this also needs to be controlled in such a way so as not to spoil the purity of yoga.

Lastly, challenging poses we practice nowadays, said my friend, is the bastardized version of the original, ancient Hatha Yoga. Hatha itself means forceful, so the postures and kriya (breathing practices) were practiced to awaken kundalini. This was way different from Raja Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga (Ashtanga refers to the philosophy of yoga, not the school of yoga founded by the late Shri K. Pattabhi Jois). In Ashtanga, yoga is taught as 8 limbs and asanas are meant to be only in seated position. In Raja Yoga, yoga refers to the union done by calming our psyche and mind so as to facilitate the process of uniting or Samadhi. “What we do now is actually the hybrid or the bastardized version of Hatha Yoga modified specially for fitness and mindfulness practice (except for the followers of Tantra Yoga who seriously learn to awaken the energy of kundalini within,” he explained further. He said he learned it all from yoga literature, which is more accurate and objective.

In brief, challenging poses in yoga are not prohibited at all. Of course there are risks involved in doing them but with risks, there are benefits you can’t ignore. Again, challenging poses are tools. They can benefit or ruin you. But never blame them. Blame your ego.

(Image courtesy: Uci/ Model: Myself)

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