What happens as we get older and our bodies can no longer do the things that they used to do? Right now I am the strongest and most flexible that I have ever been but a year ago it was a very different story. I was in hospital desperately ill, loosing weight muscle and strength fast. My teacher when she first saw me after the dramatic weight loss assured me that my body would get strong again and it wouldn’t take long. She was right but for 5 months I had to completely change my practice, adopt a more yin style . I focused a huge part of my practice on pranayama and meditation.
There are 8 limbs of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga System so why do we all fixate on one – asana? Perhaps it’s a reflection of the time and our desire for a fantastic body image and physical satisfaction. If we methodically follow the steps given to us by Patanjali then the system of Hatha yoga is a science, a programme for us to follow each day to reach Samadi (state of consciousness induced by complete meditation).
Iyengar understands and promotes the idea of ever changing body within the yoga context. What one man can do in his 20’s he may not be able to do in his 80’s .
Yoga asanas were designed to aid us in the last four stages of Patanjali’s yoga system Pratyahara, Dharana , Dhyana, Samadhi, ultimately meditation. I was unable to practice in my usual dynamic way so I focused on the other 7 limbs of yoga. By doing this I felt more in tune with my body, my environment, my mind whilst still very much practicing yoga.
I now teach to cancer patients , some of whom are really ill and in lots of pain. The classes focus on going within, to their souls (atman), journeying in allows them to see their bodies are more than the disease. Yoga is not a cure but a wonderful healer.
After 12 years of yoga practice I now incorporate the ashtanga primary series twice a week into my Sadhana. There are a few reasons for this. After being so weak last year I am determined to be strong. The discipline and routine is good not only for the body but the mind. I think to practice the primary series safely perhaps you already need to be strong.
The lesson I take from this is we never know what is around the corner. Practice changes as the body changes and it’s important to remember this in our teaching as well as our own practice. I think the key is to remember our goal in yoga and do our best to practice all 8 limbs; Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi and continue our journey inwards to our true selves or atman.