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A non-dogmatic perspective of the practice of āsana in Yoga

Many systems and methods have arisen throughout the 5,000 known years of existence of Yoga. 5,000 years is a long period and just like everything else, Yoga has gone through many conversions. Just look at the massive transformation Yoga has experienced over the past century, now multiply this by 50. Change is a natural process of evolution. The human being, as a species, has also transformed. Our genes are in constant mutation and their physical and organic expression are different than they were 5,000 years ago. Therefore,  the adjustment of this practice, especially the physical aspect is a necessity to adapt to the needs of the modern body and times. Many traditional practitioners reject this natural transformation, but this is a dogmatic perspective of something so vast as Yoga, that should be limitless.

Science, medicine and our modern-day life have required a change in the physical practice of Yoga:

Advancements in scientific research and medical knowledge have brought  new light on how we should stimulate the body physically. Some positions of Yoga are proven to be unhealthy for some types of bodies and this should be taken in consideration. Today Yoga is practiced by literally everyone that wants to. In ancient Yoga this was not the reality. It was highly limited to a very small group of people and was not meant nor recommended for the “common” person. And the world dominance of Yoga was inexistent so the variability of body types was significantly minor.

Life expectancy was also lower, so the natural deterioration that the joints undergo was not taken into consideration. Nor did they sit as long as we do currently. Movement was in generally normal and ultimately a necessity for survival. Today we have cars, supermarkets, and food delivery, giving us the possibility to stay alive without moving. And there is the fact that most of us stay seated for more less one third of the day due to our occupations. Overall, movement was more present in the daily life so there was less need of promoting it consciously.

All these factors should to be taken into consideration in the modern practice of āsana. Excessive extensions of the muscle and positions that promote the pressure in the joints should be avoided; the building of muscles around the joints to create support for the joints should be motivated; the addition of fluid movement and sequences – Vinyāsa, makes all the sense in modern practice to oppose the lack of mobility that most people experience.

Yoga should be flexible and adaptable to each individual need:

It is also highly recommended that the practice is adapted towards the individual needs of the practitioner and never the other way around. Everyone is physically unique, and we have specific requirements according to our physical condition, genes and even age. So, the birth of all these different forms of Yoga is and should be seen as positive. It brings us the possibility to choose the form of practice that is best suited for our distinct need.

Bringing this flexibility to āsana is constructive. It allows the practitioner to expand further in āsana and reach the ultimate goals of the physical practice – higher states of awareness. But to reach certain states we need consistency and time. Sometimes it takes years to experience āsana in its deepest sense, and while you explore this, a healthy approach is favored. Many Yogis were not educated with this “free” attitude and were encouraged to follow strict rules and forms that unfortunately mistreated their bodies. They probably obtained these high states of consciousness, highly aspired, while maybe harming their bodies unnecessarily throughout this path.

Advancements in the practical concept of Yoga are positive and should be an aspiration:

It is great that the physical aspect of Yoga has changed and that we are allowed to exit old systems and have different and more free points of views. The evolution of this practice is indispensable and should be seen as progressive. Openness and expansion should always be an aspiration. We may be criticized by old system believers but that is the worst that can happen. Overall, our body and experience in Yoga will be advantageous by having this detached viewpoint.

Now, this does not mean that the traditional methods should be completely refuted. They should be respected and if you already are an advanced practitioner in modern Yoga, exploring the old methods will be productive. Knowledge is power, and knowing the old methods will only add to your practice. But complementing it with the contemporary and scientifical knowledge of the body is important. And if, by chance, you are a Yoga teacher who teaches āsana, you should consider this as fundamental, for your own and your students’ physical health.

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