Stamina and focus in yoga
Why do we want to build stamina in our poses?
The poses are the playground for exploring how the body, mind and breath relationship. We first learn simple actions within simple poses. (such as the triangle pose, seen here above). Actions such as how to lift the knee caps or how to straighten the arms. Learn the simple actions and then begin to examine how the breath and the mind play a role.
The process of beginning to be able to witness the body-mind-breath connection takes time. We cannot begin to see all at once. The half a dozen classes are almost like the orientation, or warm up. In the first few classes students are introduced to the Iyengar Yoga method: how we start and end class, how we teach the poses, how we teach how to use the props, etc.
Let the newness wear off
In the beginning you need stamina to get several classes under your belt. So you can get through the newness and start building familiarity. It’s when the classes become more familiar is when the “real yoga” can take hold.
The newness and wonder creates fluctuations in the mind in the form of questions such as:
- Is this what yoga is?
- Am I doing it right?
- Is this how the poses should feel?
- When will I become enlightened?
- I came here to fix my back, when will that happen?
Once the teacher is able to teach you how to do the poses and give you feedback concerning your progress, the above questions will subside. You will be able to become more quiet. We need to be quiet in order to witness the breath and the mind. Quietness is also helpful for observing the body movements but doesn’t seem to be as imperative. Even if the mind is jumpy the body is able to capture our attention. Lucky for us–otherwise how on earth would we get started??
Sequencing and timing
Iyengar Yoga is known for it’s unique sequencing and specific timings (how long we hold the poses). In the beginning the timing is not very long. As we progress we begin to challenge ourselves to stay in the poses longer. That doesn’t mean I can put my body into any old shape and turn on the timer. I don’t want to injure myself (definitely not).
I need to be adept enough in the poses to hold them longer. That means I need a teacher to show me how to improve my poses. I do need some tips and tricks to help develop the poses, so that I can stay longer–more comfortably. And staying longer increases the opportunity for observing the body-mind-breath.
Poses as a gateway to Pranayama
The poses are a gateway to Pranayama (meditative breath work). Pranayama is the forth limb of the eight limbs outlined as the path toward absorption. The poses build strength and health and also give the mind something to focus on. We challenge ourselves to increase the length of our focus, which builds stamina. The stamina in the poses directly correlates to my ability to pay attention during Pranayama. The Pranayama then makes the poses more subtle. In turn strengthening the Body-Mind-Breath connection. It’s really miraculous.
In the philosophy book called the Yoga Sutras of Patajali it says that Pranayma “removes the veil covering the light of knowledge and heralds the dawn of wisdom.” Therefore, if I want wisdom to dawn I need to improve my poses so that I can improve my stamina so that I can concentrate more deeply in Pranayama. And again it’s a process that takes time. You have to give it a chance to work in you.