The prep for real pain and suffering

While working more deliberately with my breath recently — especially during the past week or so, which is really too short a time to take seriously — one of the starkest pieces of information I’ve received about which poses are the most demanding can be broken into two categories:

  • The poses that are so difficult, my breathing becomes extremely labored
  • The poses that challenge my mental focus, aka the boring ones

The latter of those two categories is easy to describe. It includes the two “longest” poses — shoulder stand and headstand. I understand why Pattabhi Jois (and maybe a few millennium of yogis before then) kept students in headstand for five, 10, 20 or 60 minutes. There are lessons to be learned there. (Well, I suspect. Not sure I’ll ever have the patience to find out.)

The former of the two categories, I assume, varies depending on the person — and for each person, on the day. But for me, the pose that is by far and away the one that is toughest to maintain a steady, deep breath in is Parivritta Parshvakonasana.

It is, as a result, the one I think I’m “learning” the most from: recognizing limits of fight/flight; discovering where physical strains and restraints are; and dealing with that edge — trying to hold calm in the storm it creates.

It demonstrates why I think yoga without pain or difficulty is missing something: The lesson comes in trying to remain calm and steady during stress. It’s easy to be calm when things are calm. It’s easy to be happy when things are all going great.

I just finished Ram Dass’ last book, “Polishing the Mirror,” and he talks quite a bit about dealing with pain and suffering and the lessons that come from that experience. They’re imperative and unmatched. And needed for when pain and suffering come along in every day life.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

2 thoughts on “The prep for real pain and suffering”

  1. Hi Steve! During my certification process, I worked with a peer who had tremendous difficult with Parivritta Parsvakonasana. We broke it down into very small steps. We worked with a wall on one side and a chair on the other. The wall was to keep her from falling over and the chair was for her to rest her cross over arm so it wouldn’t constrict her breathing. She eventually worked to the classic pose and passed her assessment. I know this is Iyengar stuff, but it may cross pollinate nicely for your practice. Best to you!

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