Attitudes are enduring tendencies in your mind that show themselves in your behavior as well as your speech. Yoga encourages you to examine all your basic attitudes toward life to discover which ones are dysfunctional so that you can replace them with more appropriate ones.
The traditional Sanskrit texts of Hatha Yoga state that 8.4 million postures exist, which correspond to as many species of living creatures. Of these, it's said, only 84 are useful to humans, and 32 are especially important.
The number 84 has symbolic value and is the product of 12 x 7. The number 12 represents a number?
the fullness of a chronological cycle (as in the 12 months of the year, or the 12 signs of the zodiac). The number 7 stands for structural fullness (as in the 7 energy centers or cakras of the human body — see Chapter 20).
One attitude worth cultivating is balance in everything, which is a top yogic virtue. A balanced attitude in this context means that you're willing to build up your Yoga practice step by step instead of expecting instant perfection. It also means not basing your practice on incorrect assumptions, including the notion that Yoga is about tying yourself in knots. On the contrary, Yoga loosens all your bodily, emotional, and intellectual knots. The following sections give you some guidelines for getting in the right Yoga mindset.
Many people are turned off when they see magazine covers showing photographs of experts in advanced postures with their limbs tied in knots. What these publications may fail to disclose is that most of these yogis and yoginis have practiced Yoga several hours a day for many years to achieve their level of skill. Trust us! You don't have to be a pretzel to experience the undeniable benefits of Yoga. The benefit you derive from Yoga is from practicing at a level appropriate for you and not from striking an advanced and "ideal" form.
More than 2,000 postures are possible in Yoga sports, one of five approaches we mention in Chapter 1; however, many of these poses call for such great strength and flexibility that only a top gymnast can perform them competently. Though these postures may look beautiful when mastered, they offer no greater health benefits than the 20 or so fundamental postures that make up most practitioners' daily routines. So, unless you aim to participate in Yoga competitions, don't worry about all those glamorous-looking postures. Most are new inventions, whereas Yoga masters have been content for centuries with just a handful of practices that have stood the test of time.
Some people are natural pretzels. If you (like most) aren't inherently noodlelike, regular practice can increase your flexibility and muscular strength. We advocate a graduated approach. In Chapters 6 through 13, you can find all the preparatory and intermediary steps that lead up to the final forms for the various postures. The late Yoga master T.S. Krishnamacharya of Chennai (Madras), India, the source of most of the best-known orientations of modern Hatha Yoga, emphasized tailoring Yoga instruction to the needs of each individual and advised Yoga teachers to take into account a student's age, physical ability, emotional state, and occupation. We agree and offer this sound advice: Proceed gently, but steadfastly.
Note: If you like to learn Yoga from books, choose carefully. Do the exercise descriptions include all the stages of developing comfort with a particular posture? To ask a middle-aged newcomer to Yoga to imitate the final form of many of the postures without providing suitable transitions and adaptations is a prescription for disaster. For instance, in almost every book on Hatha Yoga — except ours — you see the headstand featured quite prominently. This posture has become something of a symbol for Yoga in the West. Headstands are powerful postures, to be sure, but they also count among the more advanced practices. Because this beginner's book emphasizes exercises that are both feasible and safe, we've chosen not to include the head-stand. We say more about this decision in Chapter 10, which introduces safe inversion practices. Instead, we give you several adaptations that are easier to perform and have no risk attached to them.
American children often grow up in a highly competitive environment. From childhood on, they're pressured to do more, push harder, and win. Young athletes grow up with the spirit of competitiveness. Although competition has its place in society, this type of competitive behavior has no place in the practice of Yoga.
Yoga is about peace, tranquility, and harmony — the exact opposite of the competitive mindset. Yoga doesn't require you to fight against anyone, least of all yourself, or to achieve some goal by force. On the contrary, you're invited to be kind to yourself and others and, above all, to collaborate with your body rather than coerce it or do battle with your mind.
The idea of no pain, no gain — a completely mistaken notion — often reinforces competitiveness. Although pain and discomfort are part of life, you don't have to invite them. Yoga doesn't ask you to be a masochist. On the contrary, the goal of Yoga is to overcome all suffering. Therefore, never flog your body; always only coax it gently. Our motto is no gain from pain.
Heed our cautionary tale: Many years ago, a middle-aged man came to one of our classes. He was a friendly enough fellow but extremely competitive and hard on himself. He announced right away that he was intent on mastering the lotus posture within a few weeks and pushed himself to do so during our classes. We urged him repeatedly to proceed more slowly. After only a few visits, he failed to show up and never returned. Later, we learned from a mutual friend that in his competitive zeal, he had asked his wife to sit on his legs to force them into the lotus posture. Her weight had seriously injured both his knees!
We encourage you to use visualization in the execution of postures. For example, before you do the cobra, shoulder stand, or triangle, take ten seconds or so to visualize yourself moving into the final posture. Make your visualization as vivid as possible. Enlist the powers of your mind!
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