yogic Asanas

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    Nov 25, 2008 10:55 PM GMT
    i've done taoist yin yoga and ashtanga yoga for years on and off, and lately i've been reading some very good books on taoist meditation and hatha yoga and tantra yoga- and all suggest some pretty intense bouts of meditating in seated asanas, to strengthen the mind and spirit rather than focusing on the body through active movement. written accounts by adepts tell of the hours and even days spent in such positions, which are agony to all at first, but which must be willed through initially for an eventual comfort and bliss to settle in as flexibility is obtained (as well as mental acuity and focus) over time. i understand the ins and outs of the whys (master the body and the mind is thus mastered as well- much less confrontational), and the hows of all of this, and have begun training myself to sit for longer and longer periods in an asana....

    but as i am now, just getting into certain seated poses (the best and hardest being the lotus pose- padmasana) hurts so bad i wince, and its only with extreme mental focus that i can ignore the pain and hold the pose for a half hour or so... when i undo my legs from their locked position, they are usually asleep if i'm lucky, or on fire with pain if not. the stress on my hips, knees, and ankles seems extreme... and i wonder how healthy this is in actuality for one's joints? is it dangerous? so many yogins are limber and spry into old age, so it wouldn't seem so... but i've always been warned to heed pain in joints when stretching...

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    Nov 26, 2008 3:49 AM GMT
    Unfortunately, I've learned over 12 years of yoga practice that sitting in the lotus (the pose you've described above) for long periods of time is a mind over matter/ practice makes perfect situation. I do find, however, that moon salutes, sideways crows (parsvakakasana,) and shooting bow (akarna dhanurasana) help prep the body for settling into the lotus.
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    Nov 26, 2008 3:54 AM GMT
    Just some thoughts:
    You would do well to move through this advance with the help of a good and trusted teacher. When you're asking your body to do new things, it's invaluable to have someone there who knows if you're about to hurt yourself. Even something as "peaceful" as meditation and stillness can have its trauma.

    I say that because, while you mention books, you don't mention a practice or instructor/guide working with you at present. So i'd want you to be sure that your yoga includes both.

    For me one of the most useful things to remember is to "breathe into" the joint where you're needing the flexibility. It wasn't until yoga that I knew I could breathe into any spot on my body to open it up, relieve pain, or just to relax it. Conversely, isolating tension into any part of your body during your yoga work can cause an injury - I did that in one of the most typical ways: a woman who always was late to class came clomping in, just as we were deep into a seated forward bend = I focused on her instead of what I was doing and ended up pulling my back but good. Those few seconds cost me three weeks of recovery, but taught me a lesson.

    In yoga, as in any exercise, pain can be a signal that something is wrong. Don't force your way through it - get a 2nd opinion. Meanwhile, what you're working on now isn't a matter of the perfect position at the expense of your well=being. It's about well-being, even at the expense of a perfect pose.

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    Nov 26, 2008 3:56 AM GMT
    So is yoga a good thing to get in to? I've been thinking of joining a class when I move into downtown D.C. next week. There's a center 2 buildings away from my apartment
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    Nov 26, 2008 4:18 AM GMT
    yes, very much so. physically, it increases flexibility of the connective tissues and joints, increases balance and grace, gets your blood flowing, purifies the systems and blood of toxins- wringing them out of muscles and breathing or sweating them away, boosts the immune system, develops core strength, optimizes posture, and generates endorphins that make you feel good.
    mentally, it focuses your mind if you do it right, strengthening your ability to truly focus and control your thoughts- something very precious few ppl ever bother touching on in their lives. also, it soothes nerves, lifts the mood, and over time has shown that it helps people deal with stress and shocks better.
    spiritually... well, i won't get into that here, but suffice to say, its the GOAL of yoga- the manipulation and mastery of the body is just the means to an end- and if it has so many mundane benefits, just imagine the spiritual gold to be harvested.
    there are other benefits too, that i'm sure i'm forgetting.

    as for what else has been said- thanx guys- good advice. runinthecity i agree with using other poses to work my way into a difficult seated asana, and then just willing myself through it. sometimes i start with swastikasana to open my hips and knees up a bit before settling into lotus, or gomukhasana to just get my blood moving and my body warmed up a bit, as well as stretching my leg joints. dhanurasana is great for settling my spine into a self-supportive lordosis, as is matsyendrasana or poorna matsyendrasana and/or paschimottanasana for loosening up my back. (who came up with this ridiculous language?? lol) there are other stretches i may do before hand that aren't really yoga poses, but which i've found help loosen up a bit.
    i usually do the hard-core protracted meditation session in siddhasana or padmasana- which i have the most trouble with... but that makes me want to do it more. i can be brutal to myself lol.

    cowboyo, great advice- thanx- i DO need to find a guru somewhere- but i can't up and pilgrimage to india, and there aren't really any masters here that i know of... maybe you just mean a yoga instructor- i could talk to one but i suppose i'm getting that much help in here icon_smile.gif
    and yes, breathing into sore spots helps... but i find that to be mental energy i should be focusing on keeping my mind blank- a feat in itself... i've read in the books that i should just deal with the pain... my concern was whether there's any documentation of that unavoidable pain becoming arthritic and debilitating over enough time..
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    Nov 26, 2008 4:28 AM GMT
    as for a teacher being sympathetic, or the pain being something to avoid entirely, here's what i read in my book, 'Opening the Dragon Gate,' which is a true account of training and initiation into the Dragon Gate sect of Taoism of a boy by three taoist magi seeking to pass their knowledge on, in the 1960s, China.

    "After 49 days of sitting in the dark, Liping thought, he would certainly have no problem sitting for four hours in front of the masters. Figuring it was just a test, he got up on the platform and sat in the lotus position facing his teachers. After adjusting his posture properly, he closed his eyes and began to Sit Quietly.
    For the first hour, Wang Liping sat immobile as a statue made of stone. Another hour passed, and he still held firm. After that, however, he had to summon up his strength, wondering when the time would be up, telling himself he had to persevere because his teachers were watching.
    The minutes crawled by. Liping's legs were numb, just like the first time he practiced sitting in Lotus pose. His aching thighs felt swollen, but his hips were still bearable, and as long as he kept his waist straight, there was no problem. After a while, however, even his hip bones began to ache, his waist and lower back began to burn, and his whole body broke out in perspiration. Sweating beads as he struggled to maintain his upright position, finally the youth blacked out from the pain and collapsed.
    "Sit up right!" barked Wang Jiaoming, like an army drill instructor. Coming to, the young apprentice sat up again, but his legs were in such agony he couldn't cross them.
    "Resume the double cross-legged position," demanded the wizard. But Liping's legs would not even follow his own commands; he was at a loss. The two mentors took some rope and bound him hand and foot, tying him up into the proper position so that he could go on sitting cross-legged.
    His eyes filled with tears, but he refused to let them out. Gritting his teeth, he went on sitting. Later in life his eyes would fill with tears as he spoke with gratitude of the unsparing efforts, relentless severity, and spiritual kindness of his Taoist teachers."

    without teachers like that lol... i'm trying my best to be hard on myself...
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    Nov 26, 2008 4:56 AM GMT
    Yoga, as all my instructors and reading indicates, respects the natural boundaries of the body and stretches the limits therein. You'd probably go beyond those limits in ballet more than you ever would in yoga. It doesn't stretch beyond it, and some of the greatest yogi's didn't have the best asanas. A great teacher of mine spoke about pain in yoga and in life and said, "pain doesn't last forever, not even in hell."
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    Nov 26, 2008 5:29 AM GMT
    good point... though i think the stuff about yoga being the delicate feeling-out of one's boundaries in flexibility is primarily a westernized thing- i'm pretty convinced from what i've heard and read that in india, they suck it up. they can be pretty brutal when liberation from samsara is at hand.
    though i agree- pain is fleeting- in so far as one can choose to rise above it. icon_smile.gif

    i just had a breakthrough btw- i was just in the shower under near-scalding water, and decided to start stretching a bit, figuring i was already loosened up by the hot water... before i knew it i was in lotus pose on the shower floor with the water cascading over me- almost impossible to breathe but that added to the experience of self control (i had to veeeeeeeeeeeeery slooooooowly draw air in and let it out through the curtain of water streaming over my nose lol)- i don't know how long i held the pose for but i'd bet money it was a new personal record (probably over a half-hour and under a full hour)! afterwards i got out of the pose very slowly using another easier pose as a transition. i stood up carefully... and voila! minimal soreness- actually it feels more like... delicateness. but not uncomfortable. and my mind feels light and echoey and peaceful icon_smile.gif

    money well spent on the impending water bill lol
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    Dec 02, 2008 2:35 PM GMT
    A benefit of having the counsel of a good instructor includes the simple but critical "second pair of eyes" - educated eyes - that can see an error and correct it. That person can also gauge your progress better than you can yourself, and knows if you are rushing toward an end or are on a good course.

    An inept instructor, on the other hand, can do real harm!

    Meditation, in my understanding, does not preclude the mind "wandering" - trying to control that wandering too much may prevent you from wandering into an important insight. Yoga, being always about balance, is a much "letting" as "making", as much release as effort.

    My thanks, Czarodziej, for the conversation. It's drawing me - irretrievably, I think - back into a place I left a while back and definitely want to return to.
  • Abe13

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    Dec 02, 2008 3:08 PM GMT
    I have been practicing yoga off and on for the past several years, and I am curious as to the books you are refering to. This is something that interests me as the next step in my yoga practice and another stepping stone in my spiritual practice.
    If you wouldn't mind posting the book titles.
    Thank you in advance Czarodziej.