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How to Do Yoga Poses Correctly: A Spiritual Perspective

This article about the spiritual benefits of fasting/abstinence is a part of the Yoga Practice section of our Guide to Spiritual Yoga for Beginners.

Body Pose, Mind Pose: A Spiritual Perspective on Doing Yoga Poses “Correctly”

In yoga, what you do is far less important than how you do it.

In yoga, any pose is done incorrectly if one does not remain mindful while doing it.

And any pose can produce stress relief and mindfulness if we are willing to feel our stress rather than avoid it. Avoiding (or trying to eliminate) our stress means that our stress is in control.

 

By contrast, learning to sit with our stress ensures that we won't waste our life running from it.

 

This is what it means to become fearless: fearlessness just is no longer running from our unwanted thoughts and painful emotions.

 

Ultimately, yoga just is no longer fleeing yourself.

How to Practice Yoga: The Essence of Yoga Practice is Being With Yourself

Being with Yourself: A Simple Mindfulness of Breathing [ānāpānasati] Exercise.

This exercise can be done in any pose, including whatever position you happen to be in while reading this.

  1. Start by placing your attention on your breathing body. Your body is always already breathing. For this exercise, you don’t need to take control of (or try to fix) your breath (e.g., make it longer/deeper/smoother, etc.). Simply find your breath with your attention. Notice where you feel your breath most (nose, chest, abdomen?).

  2. Simply feel the body breathe. There’s no need to do anything: theres nothing to obtain/achieve or make happen. Your body knows how to breathe. Breath leads, attention follows. Dont get ahead of the breath: let it come to you. “Receive” the breath with the body. Feel just one breath at a time. Just one. And then another. Nothing to be done. Feel the breath from the inside of your body. 

  3. Whenever your mind wanders, return your attention to your already-breathing body. (Let your mind know that you’ll re-visit important thoughts once you're finished.) Because this is an exercise in awareness, every time you’ve noticed that you’re distracted, you’ve “won”.

 

Notice that these instructions run counter to the more common advice to (actively) “breathe”. This mindfulness exercise is intended to help you cultivate a greater capacity for passively “letting go” (which always entails letting go of ones preoccupation with oneself). It simultaneously builds, among other things, focus, self-awareness, resilience, and a greater capacity for connection. (It also will allow you to react more constructively to the realization that youre doing a yoga pose incorrectly.)

 

You can deepen this simple practice in a number of ways. Eventually, you will strengthen your capacity to experience painful emotions and difficult thoughts and notice how/when/where/why you are avoiding them. Becoming aware of these avoidance habits prevents your painful emotions and difficult thoughts from continuing to dictate the terms of your life, instead allowing you to see how your resources and fulfillment are tied up in the tangled emotions connected precisely to the things you avoid. This also means that your yoga practice will no longer be an “escape” (however much such an escape is needed) from your everyday life, but will rather allow you experience all of your life more fully, more deeply.

 

This traditional approach to āsana transcends “stress relief”, if only because successfully becoming “less stressed” (while in your yoga class) doesn't mean that you’ll return to a life that no longer produces the same kinds of stress. When you no longer avoid the more challenging parts of your inner life, you are more inclined to honour your own needs and inspirations (and release destructive addictions used to avoid pain). You then become more capable of creating a life that features less stress (or more meaningful stress): a life based on a personal vision that filters and focuses your attention and calls you beyond your ego towards contribution and deeper connection.

tiny buddha how to do yoga postures correctly
Becoming aware of these avoidance habits prevents your painful emotions and difficult thoughts from continuing to dictate the terms of your life, instead allowing you to see how your resources and fulfillment are tied up in the tangled emotions connected precisely to the things you avoid.

Further Reading

In this article on yoga poses, we emphasized the importance of something like “mindfulness” rather than physical alignment/placement of specific body parts (back/spine, neck, legs, shoulders, hips, etc.). While injury prevention while engaged in a pose is, indeed, important, we focused the importance of attention, emphasizing that yoga could be done without being engaged in any specific pose at all—something like a yoga “posture” off the yoga mat. This article on yoga postures is part of our Yoga Practice section of our Guide to Spiritual Yoga, the latter which contains a more comprehensive discussion of “spiritual” yoga. Other articles in this section on Yoga Practice include the role of fasting/abstinence in the cultivation of awareness (and understanding one’s “addictions”), and how yoga practice and spirituality are related to personal/professional growth.

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