On the weekend I had the distinct privilege of taking two courses from iconic trainer Karsten Jensen. The courses were on exercise science and were certainly eye-opening. Karsten Jensen has trained “World Class and Olympic athletes and coaches from 13 different sports for over 16 years” (excerpt from bio in his book, ‘The Flexible Periodization Method,’ published in 2015). One of the topics covered in his course, “Beyond Functional Training,” was the notion of non-attachment to exercises.
Non-attachment is an important theme in the Yoga Sutras, the philosophical ancient text on yoga philosophy. It was great to see this concept covered in the course “Beyond Functional Training,” along with many other yoga concepts that are congruent with our practice here at Breathe Into Motion Yoga Studios. In the course manual Jensen is quoted as saying, “The principle of having no emotional attachments is the most important principle of exercise selection because if you have emotional attachments any other decision is affected by that attachment.” (p. 13)
As yogis we can become attached to the range of motion in a pose very easily. It is after all a measurement of some sense of false achievement. What do I mean by ‘false achievement?’ In the practice of yoga there is nothing to achieve or strive for. There is only patient diligent practice in the hopes of healing injuries and resolving medical issues in order not to have distractions when in meditation. I suppose you might say that the achievement in Hatha Yoga (any type of physical yoga practice) is in finding a ‘comfortable seat’ from which to mediate, and it just so happens the Sanskrit term Asana (suffix at the end of every yoga posture name) means ‘comfortable seat.’
Many times when yoga students are trying a bit too hard postures are not comfortable. The notion that students need to have consistently achieved more range of motion in a given pose is revealing an underlying attachment. The attachment then cultivates Avidya. So how do I put this lightly…? OK, let’s rip that band-aid right off, shall we? Avidya means a shroud of ignorance. Ouch, for someone who has spent many years practicing yoga wrong as I did (see last week’s blog), that hurts.
Maybe more to the point, if you are attached to range of motion in a yoga pose or attached to a particular posture or variation of a yoga posture, you can be chronically injuring yourself. It might not be on your radar that you are hurting yourself nearly as much as your need to achieve some range of motion. Now in reflection we can see things from a different vantage point through the application of Vairagya, which means non-attachment, or letting go.
The next time you’re on your yoga mat think of assembling the pose and just being content to be there instead of striving or achieving. Allow the breath to animate the posture in very small, almost indiscernible, yet still perceptible subtle movement. This act of animating the posture with breathing offers the opportunity to practice Vairagya and at the same time receive the full benefit of the yoga pose.
In a wider yoga concept Vairagya will help in life’s little challenges. In those moments of frustration or grief, pain and sorrow there is an opportunity for equanimity and grace. Perhaps this blog can be summed up with a quote from ‘SwamiJ.com,’ which I hope will connect this blog to last week’s blog in some philosophical way. “Love is what is left when you let go of all the things you love.”