Yoga instructor Becky Farbstein shares some tips on how we can make sure that yoga doesn’t feel so much like hard work. Join Becky at her Yoga Playshop this Saturday, April 26th, at 13.30 to learn more.
I have always been fascinated by how yoga is a balance of dichotomies and contradictions: work (“tapas”) and play (“lila”), hard and soft, strength and flexibility, fast and slow. At its core, yoga is “union,” so yoga ultimately unites these oppositional forces of work and play. Once united together, yoga leads to greater equanimity, balance, and ultimately, Samadhi or enlightenment. Many of the traditional texts, including Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, establish these binary relationships and dichotomies as fundamental to the practice of yoga. “Tapas” is defined as self-discipline, effort, and commitment. “Moksha,” or liberation and freedom in this life (the ultimate “aim” of yoga, if such a thing exists, and arguably, the highest level of “play”), is only attainable if we commit to the hard work and “tapas” of yoga.
I am happy to have the chance to dive deeply into these relationships in my upcoming workshop. I believe that in order to “play,” we must first establish strong foundations in our asana practice, which requires some work. We all identify and label poses that are hard work for us – our “tapas” – which can leave us dreading or avoiding certain asanas. It is tempting to shy away from the “work” poses in yoga or to approach them with a “grit teeth and bear it but please don’t make me hold this one breath longer!” attitude. We’ve all been there. Every body is different, so your “tapas” will not be the same as mine, but there are fundamental principles underlying many of the common “work” poses (Utkatasana, anyone?). By facing these poses head-on and building a deeper understanding of them both anatomically and energetically, we will begin to find ease (and play!), even in these “work” asanas.
Fortunately, each “work” pose can also be seen as a gateway to play and an opportunity to explore and experiment on your mat. Vanda Scaravelli, a famous yoga teacher, said “In yoga…we play with our whole bodies,” and this workshop is fundamentally a chance to become curious and explore new possibilities within our bodies. For instance, twisting utkatasana may feel like work to many of us, but it is easily transformed into a playful Parsva bakasana (“side crow”) arm balance. Inversions and arm balances are the ultimate “play” component of yoga and they remind us of how we used to play fearlessly as children. They are the only opportunity most of us have to “fly” in our everyday life, and turning your world upside down is simultaneously thrilling, terrifying, and liberating. We will have plenty of time in this workshop to play with lots of different arm balances, including ones like Maksikanagasana (“Dragonfly”), that we don’t often have time to try in the context of a fast-paced vinyasa class.
Finally, this workshop will build into deep backbends, which are the ultimate “feel good” and energising poses in yoga. As always, we must start from “work” to move safely into these backbends: the core must be strengthened and we must move mindfully to find fluidity and movement along the entire spine rather than “crunching” into the lower back. But the rewards for this hard work are the playful and deep backbends that produce that zinging and buzzing sensation that leaves you bouncing out of the studio with a smile on your face at the end of a yoga class.
Building the confidence to explore and experiment with our own bodies and our own practices on the mat is ultimately what allows us to access the joyful play, or lila, in yoga. Each practitioner has a different perception of what is hard work and what feels playful in yoga. This workshop will give you the tools and the confidence to play more in your yoga practice, regardless of whether you have been practicing for 5 minutes or 50 years. Come to work & play, sweat & laugh, learn & experiment. All levels welcome!