Some of the advanced Yoga poses do require a level of physical strength to achieve and hold, like some of the arm balances for example; but, in general, a brute force approach in Yoga is bound to lead to frustration and quite possibly injury.
I have started practicing with the Ashtanga system around April this year, and it has taught me a lot. One of the big lessons is patience – I am normally very impatient, I want everything NOW, possibly quicker! But Ashtanga is teaching me (and reminding me every single day) that you can’t have everything now. It is also teaching me that Pattabhi Jois was onto something with his famous mantra of “practice, and all is coming”, the truth of which obviously depends on your definition of “all”. But if Yoga for you is more than Indian calisthenics then yeah, it is true indeed.
So there is impatient me, 56-year-old, with a metal hip (due to a car accident many years ago), trying to get myself into Marichyasana A and consistently failing to bind the two hands around my bionic hip – and getting ever more frustrated. I would just about touch the tips of the fingers together, and I’d push and tighten every muscle in my body to convince it to bend they way I wanted – and failing, again and again.
During one particular practice Judi, my teacher, came to help and adjust and told me to relax my arms and let her guide them. As soon as my arms were more or less in position I started pushing with all my might to get those damn fingers to bind, and at that point Judi whispered “less force, more breath!”.
I realised just then that I had been holding my breath while trying to force my way into the pose. I relaxed, let Judi guide me and hey, guess what? I had a bind!
So, I still can’t bind in Marichyasana on that side every time but at least now I try and remember a few things:
- Force only gets you that far
- Never, ever, compromise the breath in order to achieve a pose. Breath should be the first thing you adjust; the rest will eventually come if it is meant to
- Be patient, keep practicing and enjoy the journey, the “failures” to get into postures may be the bits you learn most from.