Years ago, when I started doing yoga, I thought the adage, “the poses never end,” meant you never stopped working on the poses, right? Even then, I didn’t think it was about perfecting the poses. I suspected, and rightly so, that there was no such thing as perfection. Our bodies and minds are forever interpreting a pose in that breath and moment in time against gravity, our limitations, and our egos.
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Over the years, as my yoga journey evolved away from the physical accomplishments (sweat and brute force) into a more thoughtful and mindful practice, I’ve come to realize what, to me, is the true meaning of that adage: The poses never end because, as long as we are breathing and alive, we embody our bodies. And since yoga teaches us to be in our bodies mindfully and intelligently, it stands to reason that no matter what we are doing in our days, we are always in a pose, always doing yoga.
Take this very exercise of writing. It’s easy, and indeed it is our human tendency, for me to relax over my laptop, my head forward, shoulders rounded, slumped over, my core soft, dumping the weight of my torso onto my lower back, my feet barely touching the floor. One mindful breath, a moment dedicated to checking in with the intelligent alignment of the body, and I bring myself into a soothing and empowering yoga pose based on the principles we learn on the yoga mat: Neutral neck, a lifted heart, scapula depressed, core engaged, sitz bones rooting down into the chair, heels rooting on the floor. The mere shift in alignment opens my thoracic spine and I breath easier and more fully. Immediately, my posture is infinitely effortless. I feel the movement of energy in my head so even writing is easier!
The ancient yogis who codified this practice set out to discover how we could best prepare the body for meditation and worship to connect to the Divine. Surely along the way they must have realized that the myriad of asanas – rooted eternally in the intelligence of the body – served as the unequivocal standard for human movement.
The asanas – the third limb of yoga – bring steadiness, health, lightness and equilibrium. As B.K.S. Iyengar wrote in Light on Yoga, “The yogi realizes that his life and all its activities are part of the divine action in nature, manifesting and operating in the form of man.” We embody the physical, the abode of the Divine. They cannot be divided, therefore, the poses never end.
How often do you take yoga with you off the mat? At the supermarket checkout, do you find yourself in Vrksasana? Sitting down at your desk, do you find your way down to your seat doing Utkatasana? How about driving in your car or scrubbing your feet in the shower?
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