I like and practise vinyasa, but I have my doubts about being a slave to a breathing choreography at the expense of alignment or about sequences that never allow for settling into the asanas. Likewise, I have my doubts about repetitions and oscillations. Here I go with why.
Asana means seat. Standing allows for changing location, but sitting implies remaining in one place and, yet, as opposed to lying down, remaining active. Active stillness is at the heart of any asana, as holding the posture still involves action.
Taking joints to the extremes of their range of motion and staying there provides sustained traction on ligaments and tendons which stimulates blood circulation and cellular regeneration. If the position is not held, this benefit cannot be obtained. Also, in an extreme position, swaying to and fro can create momentum that takes the joint beyond its possibilities at that moment in time and damages it.
The myotatic stretch reflex in the muscle makes it contract when it is stretched. So, if we want to stretch a muscle, we have to inhibit this reflex. Bouncing and pulling trigger off this reflex and, even if it looks like we’re getting further, the muscle is then actually getting shorter. In any case, an asana only seems static from the outside, as the body keeps projecting itself, following a direction, an intention, rather than stopping when it reaches a point in space; even in stillness, there is still movement.
Most of us are familiar with full-on activity and with collapsing for rest. Yoga is an invitation to explore the space in between: being active in a relaxed way and actively engaging with rest. Asanas require that certain parts of the body work while certain parts of the body yield. Doing both things at the same time develops our awareness and exercises our capacity of choice and freedom from habit.
Yes, it’s a challenge to be still. It puts me up against the fact that I find it difficult to just be and experience. It shows me what I do in order to avoid simply and profoundly being. It’s easy to justify my wish to move or to come out of the asana with boredom, because it’s always the same posture. But we know that nothing is ever the same; if I feel it’s the same, there’s something I’m missing. Boredom is avoiding to perceive that which I neither cherish nor reject.
I might get the impression that I was much calmer moving around and that being still is making me nervous and tense. Shake a bottle of water and then put it down. The water will continue moving for a while before it can settle, it’s not that resting the bottle has put the water in motion. If I do need to burn off energy, I can do that first. And then allow myself to quieten down. If we are wanting to become aware of everything that is in us, so that we can integrate it, we’ll have to let the waters quieten down, so that we can see through them. What am I when I don’t do?
Having said all this… I love to move! And, as I cultivate my awareness in stillness, I become more capable of being aware while in motion. There is a time for everything. I find hexagram 52 of the I-Ching, the mountain, very inspiring: stillness is keeping still when it’s the time to keep still and moving when it’s the time to move. Knowing when’s the time for what is the big challenge… Pure art!