Most people who have practiced Yoga for some time will tell you it was a tool of transformation for them. A teacher of mine has a beautiful saying: Yoga works, whether you want it or not. So, even if you didn’t quite enjoy your time on the mat, Yoga has offered something to you nevertheless. It might have put you in a place of discomfort, brought you to your edge, or made you start a fight with your ego. In any case, it has shown you your weak spots and strengths, it has given you very accurate account of your momentary situation. From this point, you can start on working to become a happier, healthier and more conscious person. Yoga works, even if you’re not willing to face what it shows you.
That’s the point: Yoga works. For sure. It’s like that cup of coffee late at night that will most likely have an effect on you. It’s like a refreshing yogurt or a hot soup. Coffee, yogurt, and soup are neutral. You’ll probably have learnt how to handle them so they work for you, not against you. Too much coffee, a cooling yogurt on a chilly winter day, and a cup of soup in summer, might not be the happiest of choices.
It’s exactly the same thing with Yoga. All poses are neutral. They can have positive and negative effects. Only through optimal combination and correct practice will you reap the benefits.
This is why especially in Western culture Yoga should most of all be a practice of self-awareness, patience and balance. Although it is a very gentle and harmonious practice, it is also very strong. Its effects, good and bad, will show strongly. This is why cultivating mindfulness to the effects of your practice means creating a strong safety net. In fact, a well-trained inner observer is the only safety net you have.
Some negative effects of an ill-done Yoga pose will show very quickly, and even violently!, on the physical level. Injuries are, for most Yogis, the only alarm they will actually listen to, because they are forced to do so. A friend of mine has made himself ill by practicing hard-core Yoga twice a day, going for the most dramatic and demanding poses. He was surprised when I told him that all he needed to get better was to stop his practice, or at most go for restorative poses for half an hour a day. „Oh, can you do too much Yoga?„, was his stunned reaction.
Besides the physical effects, ill-practiced poses also have a negative impact on your subtle energy make-up.
I noticed this consciously this week when I started to work on Headstand. I have done all the necessary preparation: I worked on the strength of my shoulders, arms, belly and neck; and I internalized the proper alignment in standing poses such as the mountain. Yet, I felt strangely excited and uncomfortable in my body after each session of Headstands.
I started to put more emphasis on the counter pose of Headstand, which is the Shoulder Stand. But the very subtle feeling of unease and imbalance persisted.
This tells me that although my physical make-up is absolutely able to perform a headstand, there seems to be a mental blockage concerning this pose. What it is and where it comes from, I’m still investigating – turning to the old wisdom of turning each obstacle into an opportunity for practicing skillfulness, mindfulness and trust.