In my teaching career I have heard students ask, and in my own practice I found myself asking: “Why can’t I do [fill in the name of pose here]?” Usually the answer (at least mine do) strays into technical sounding pseudo-anatomy speak “The medial rotation of the kneecap spiral is impeding the colloidal suspension of the hyoid bone…”
Speaking only from my own practice (I’ll spare you the hyperlink to my Nemesis posts, find ‘em if you want to read ‘em), I have given this answer to myself:
Q: Why can’t I do Urdhva Dhaurasana?
A: Well [all answers sound more authoritative when they begin with ‘Well…”] the external rotation coupled with the extension of the psoas is impeded by……”
That may be all well and true, and it may not make any sense, but it is much easier to grasp than the REAL answer.
Because the real answer is also a question:
“Why do you feel that you are not doing the pose correctly right now? Because you are, you know.”
Allow me to play the Patañjali card again:
“Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” (I.2) For a practice to be called ‘yoga’ it must be focused on the mind, its fluctuations, and the methods to cause their cessation.
The physical expression of the pose is relatively unimportant (excepting that it does not cause injury “The suffering that is yet to come is to be avoided” II.16); it is the mental state in the pose which defines success: “Postures should embody steadiness and ease” (II.46). This describes mental, not physical states, but if there is not steadiness and ease in the physical state, that is a sign that there is not steadiness and ease in the mental state.
Here comes the tricky part. Yes, physical and mental are related. Yes physical state is easier (more tangible) to grasp than mental state. So, do we help the student (and ourselves) MORE by focusing on the physical or the mental?
From my own direct experience, focusing on the mental leads to infinitely more sustained benefit and growth than does focusing on the physical.
My practice for many, many years focused around Urdhva Dhanurasana. First being very frustrated (putting it in “safe harbor” terms) at not being able to match my thought of what the pose should be, then to consciously trying to block the pose out and do it as a matter of course (ie. “Ok, let’s get through this and move on.”)
When my practice began to evolve away from the strongly rajasic Ashtanga System, which includes this pose, I had to confront my attitude toward this pose. “Why can’t I do this pose?” Because my ego is telling me I have to do it and I am pushing myself to the point of constant injury to satisfy my ego.
Practicing this pose is causing fluctuations in the mind.
Ego is causing fluctuations in the mind.
Yoga is the cessation of fluctuations of the mind.
Therefore, practicing this pose (for me) is not practicing yoga.
That is a hard effing pill to swallow. But swallow it we must, if we are practicing yoga.
At some point in our practice, we need to apply this level of analytics to what we are doing. Self-analysis is actually more ‘yoga’ than asana (see again I.2).
The next time you find yourself (or your students, if applicable) asking why then ‘can’t’ do something, avoid the easy out of focusing on the physical and turn the focus inward. Assure them (as long as they are not leading toward injury) that they ARE doing the pose. The absolute correct version which is right for them at that specific time.
You’ll be both scared and amazed at what you will find.
And you will continue to define the practice which is correct for you rather than adapt to the ideals of someone else.
“Full effort is full victory.” ~MKG