Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Action & Resistance

My old teacher, the late Roger Eischens, was often credited with defining the category of enigmatic yogi. For those of you who are not familiar with Roger, one of his best known maxims was blessed are the stiff. Biblical references aside, this phrase often catches yoga practitioners off guard. We tend to associate yogic prowess with Gumby-like flexibility… how could the stiff be in any way blessed in their yogic endeavors? Isn’t flexibility the grail of yoga?

Why would BKS Iyengar insist that stiffer students had the advantage in learning yoga? With his decades of practice and teaching, along with a mastery of the most difficult asanas, certainly a yoga master like BKS Iyengar would recognize the important of flexibility in yoga. Or would he?

I often find yoga students get distracted with the flexibility. Potential students put off taking their first class because they’re too stiff, beginning students often think I can never do this, and continuing students tend to push themselves too hard getting into new postures. The interest in flexibility has hypnotized the Western approach to yoga.

Flexibility is intriguing only in relation to resistance. As we’ve observed in previous blog entries, yoga is a non-dual path, and as such, is a path to break down the perceived delineation separating opposites. Calling upon a definition of Hatha Yoga, ha- referring to Sun energy, and –tha referring to Moon energy, the very definition of Hatha Yoga is unification (yoga) of Sun & Moon, or put in more Western-friendly terms, Hatha Yoga is the active path of unifying the illusion of opposites into wholeness.

In practicing a yoga posture (asana), what would this look like? Coming back to Roger’s terms, the asana is a field to practice the balance of Action & Resistance. Action is the movement into the posture, and Resistance is the force acting in opposition to that movement. In the body, the state of Yoga is the balance of Action & Resistance. Too much of either is an imbalanced state, and likely to thwart experiencing the state of Yoga.

The state of Yoga implies a state of bliss. In this blissful state, the mind is not troubled by categories such as good & bad, or success & failure, but resides in the non-dual state of Yoga. Our physical practice can facilitate catching glimpses of this Yogic state independent of a flexible body or mastery of difficult postures.

In the pairing of Action & Resistance, we’re already familiar with the Action portion. Action is the movement that deepens the posture. For the stiffer students, they encounter the elastic limit of their stretching muscle quite quickly, which cultivates Resistance. For the flexible students, they often move a long ways without significant Resistance until encountering the mechanical limits of their joint structure.

This is the reason stiffer students come closest to the state of Yoga. Their stiffness acts as a degree of Resistance, and it takes little movement (Action) to encounter the Resistance. Working at this liminal edge of Action (movement into the posture) and Resistance (stiffness preventing further movement) is most likely to bring the mind into the present moment, as well as facilitating the flow of vital energy in the body. The merging of Action & Resistance acts as a pump for this vital energy (Prana) that sends it coursing throughout the body, and opens the gates to the state of Yoga. Stiff students often understand the concept of Resistance quite readily, and with little instruction can experience glimpses of Yoga.

For flexible people, it’s easier to create the outer shell of a yoga posture, and as a result, flexible people are more likely to stick with their yoga practice. To derive the deepest benefits, however, is much more demanding for a flexible person. Because the Resistance is dormant in the flexible body, experiencing the state of Yoga means cultivating Resistance in the poses.

This is something the Yogis understood thousands of years ago, and periodically modern thinkers stumble upon the same observation. For example, the Stretching work of Bob Cooley is a thoroughly researched and well-described approach to Action & Resistance. While it restates the inner understanding of Yoga, it is always refreshing to see modern thinkers underscore ancient wisdom.

Balancing Action & Resistance stills the mind and pumps Prana energy throughout the body. It’s a gateway to the state of Yoga, and has survived the test of time. Sadly, our Western interpretation of Yoga is all about higher, faster & stronger. I encourage you to contemplate Action & Resistance in your home practice, and share your comments with us.

1 comment:

skigirl40 said...

Scott...this captures so much, love it. Sent it on to Tom (he thought it was very cool) and Bob.