According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the true definition of an asana is a posture that is both steady and comfortable. But how many times have you found yourself in Pigeon Pose, wishing that you could get out of it?
Your muscles are cramping, screaming for relief, and your mind takes you to places that are just as uncomfortable, until you just can't take it anymore and you squirm your way out of the posture. Don't worry, it's perfectly normal! And a lot easier than fighting with yourself to stay in it.
So how do we come to understand this sutra? How can a yoga pose like Pigeon ever be steady and comfortable?
Step one, breathe. Breathe in, breathe out. Inhale, exhale. Simple, right? Not so much. It is natural for us to hold our breath during times of stress, turmoil, or just plain everyday tasks. It actually takes effort to breathe; I mean really breathe.
But coming to our breath is first. This helps us find that body-mind connection that is so important in stilling in the mind (which is step 2). When we come to our breath, our parasympathetic nervous system is calm and aware. It is like a massage to our nervous system.
Simply try it now. Focus on your breath. Close your eyes. Then, observe what happens. Chances are, your jaw becomes unclenched, your shoulders relax down and back, and your mind becomes calmer. And you weren't even aware of those things to begin with!
2. Still your mind.
This sounds much easier than it is. And this is the beauty of yoga. When you get into a posture, things come up. Your mind begins to wander. Your body starts talking to you, reminding you of any little discomfort.
You begin to listen to the chatter in your mind, until it convinces you of whatever lie it is trying to tell. No, you are not going to die in this posture. No, it will not kill you to stay in it for another breath (or five).
Stilling the mind means finding control. And once the mind is stilled, it can be available to receive the information that really matters. This is "yoga chitta vritti nirodhah," translated to "yoga is the mastery of stilling the mind-stuff." Once mastered, the true Self shines through.
3. Be patient.
Like my teacher always tells our class, "millimeters are miles." This is true in yoga—and in life. Just because you can't get into a pose, doesn't mean you won't aspire to be there someday.
Your head may not touch your knees in Uttanasana without a slight bend, but each day you breathe into the posture, still your mind, and find peace with your body, that extra millimeter of stretch might just take you to your edge. And that is accomplishing a whole lot.
4. Accept the limitations of your body.
Not everyone was meant to sit in Lotus. This is just one example, but you get what I'm saying. Everyone has a different skeletal structure, muscular build, and ligament flexibility. Not to mention all the lifestyle factors that influences our ability to move and bend.
For me, it's Double Pigeon, or Fire Log Pose (Agnistambhasana). No matter how much I stretch, rotate my hips, loosen my knees, or heat up my body, it will not move in that way. And, yes, I admit it's frustrating! But this is a limitation that I have come to accept (there are many more, mind you).
And this doesn't mean that I don't come into my version of Fire Log Pose. My knees may be pointing to the sky instead of out to the sides, and I can't bend forward very much, but I get into the posture and breathe just the same.
Failure to recognize and accept these limitations can lead to a deeper internal struggle, self-doubt, and potential injury.
5. Above all else, love.
No matter what is going on around you, or where you are at this very moment, you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Love and accept yourself. Love and accept your surroundings. And love and accept others who are in your life.
This will ultimately cultivate inner peace, which will soon permeate everything around you. If we can find this comfort and steadiness in a difficult yoga posture, we can certainly take this practice off the mat, finding the same comfort and steadiness in everyday life.