The alignment sessions are the practical heart of Grischa’s retreats. Step by step we will be re-constructing all postures of the primary series and unfold the numberless miracles and ingenious subtle details about it. We will see how Yoga poses are constructed to confuse the nervous system and how habitual patterns are often times creating pains and other problems. We will learn that we can only overcome them by challenging almost everything we seem to know about right and wrong. Yoga is becoming aware of the obvious that is right in front of our eyes.
Sukha – the meaning of good alignment
According to Yoga Sutra, the key requirements of an asana are sthira and sukha, Sthira generally means stable but is a key component of abhyāsa (yogic practice) in general. Sukha is commonly translated as “pleasant”. Interestingly the original meaning is “good hole” as opposed to duḥkha (bad hole). Only a chariot wheel with a well-aligned hole could possibly give you a smooth and pleasant ride. Same is true for your practice. Only a good aligned practice can have good results. Otherwise it can’t even be considered Yoga practice according to Patanjali. Poor practice can be recognized by strains, pains, injuries. This also includes mental diseases like pride, vanity and wanting to “show off” for impressing yourself or others.
All Yoga poses are constructed to be challenging our body and our nervous system. In fact they are so complex that we can hardly breathe at first. Beginners are often been given extremely rudimentary instructions about poses such as “look navel” or “take the big toe” to make things not to complicated and frustrating. Many beginner misconceptions have even been declared as goals of poses in “western” Yoga (e.g. “pose xyz is about stretching the ham strings”). But at some point we need to look under the surface of things for developing excellence in practice. Yoga begins with unfolding the millions of fascinating details that make up each pose as we drop our naive superficial ideas about them.
Differences make all the difference
There are not only differences in series and postures. One should never forget that every single being is different and that each posture is different for each person. Therefore it is not enough to apply the exact same 5-10 instructions and adjustments to every single student. Every person is unique and needs 100% individual attention and care.
It is OK trying “squeezing the anus” as a beginner or “sucking in your belly towards the spine”. But such gross instructions must never be confused with the very delicate and subtle nature of the bandhas which they try to make you aware of. The term “internal alignment” is based on the experience that all instructions on “how to do a pose” become useless once you experience the organization of a pose from within. This experience can be summarized by a much deeper and ultimately very natural understanding of Mūlabandha and Uddiyana Bandha.
Mūlabandha is not a muscle or a group of muscles. It is the result of an all-pervading integration and internalization of all opposing forces in the body. The effect can prominently be felt as a “tone” in the pelvic floor, but with a little bit of practice you will feel it also in your feet, palms, palate, between the eye brows… it’s truly endless.
Learning and Healing from injuries
There are several good news about physical injuries from your Yoga practice:
- All injuries heal (only) when you stop re-injuring yourself
- All injuries are only symptoms and have a cause
- Pain or injuries clearly tell you that you are making a mistake
- The cause of all injuries is misunderstanding, ignorance (avidya)
- Good teachers can easily find out the cause of injuries because of the systematic approach of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
There are also bad news about injuries in Yoga:
- We need to accept that we make mistake otherwise we can’t let go of our habits
- The correct way is often times exactly the opposite of what we have learnt before / as beginners
- Teachers that can handle individuality seem to be rare in Ashtanga. Treating every person the same is the cause of most injuries
Yoga is finding a path out of self conditioning. Pain and injuries are excellent tools for growth if we use them with intelligence and proper guidance.