Yoga: Much More than a Checklist
~ Abha Gupta, YSN Editor-in-Chief
(YSN Vol. 7, No. 2 – Dec. 2019)
My friend recently called me asking for my recommendations for yoga postures that would fix the issues she was having with her immune system. I told her to come attend our yoga classes. However, like many, she is a busy lady and was not able to find time to attend a yoga class. She instead asked for a list of specific yoga postures, so I sent her a list of videos and pictures of poses: viparita karni (legs against the wall), paschim namaskar (reverse prayer pose), adhomukh asan (downward dog), halaasan (plow pose), setubandh (bridge pose), ushtra asan (camel pose), vriksha asan (tree pose), and, of course, pranayama (breathing exercises). While she was happy with this list, and I seemed to have temporarily appeased her, these postures are not sufficient in the long run for the entire being.
Asking for a list of postures to address one’s disease is as if one is offered a whole meal plan – complete with proteins, carbs, fats, vitamins, fiber, and minerals – and rejects it, instead requesting only a list of foods that contain Vitamin C because they have a small Vitamin C deficiency. They would then focus on padding up their vitamin C intake, and ignore the rest. Their Vitamin C deficiency might disappear; however, another deficiency may soon come up. This piece-meal approach to one’s health and well-being may work temporarily but is not a long-term solution.
People also occasionally ask for my recommendations on relevant yoga postures for addressing specific health issues. Each time, my first recommendation is simply to attend yoga sessions – not out of any desire to increase the number of attendees in our free yoga classes but because, in a yoga session, one focuses on the health of the entire body and all its major systems. The routine of our yoga sessions has been specifically designed to address the body’s circulatory, nervous, skeletal, endocrine, urinary, muscular, respiratory, digestive, and reproductive systems. In yoga, along with physical health, mental health and the total being are emphasized.
We often find ourselves equating our entire being, our very existence, with a disease that has compromised our health, behaviors, or activity. We have all heard people say “I am a diabetic,” “I am an anemic,” “I am a schizophrenic,” “I am a manic depressive,” etc., as if that is who you are, or all of you as a person! We should refrain from assuming we are defined by these things, which are temporary states and conditions, rather than the essence of who we are. By equating ourselves with an illness or disease, we tend to feed that state of illness with more attention and energy. We forget the healthy aspects of the body and we reduce our entire being to a passing condition, a sacred outrage to the infinite, eternal, consciousness that we are.
Just like a body is more than the sum of its parts, yoga is more than a checklist of asanas (postures). In fact, in Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga (eight limbs of yoga), postures make up only one of the eight “limbs.” (The other limbs refer to moral conduct and the inward journey to understand one’s self.)
Next time you think about asking for a quick fix for a health ailment – think holistically. Remember that you are more than your disease, so you should be looking for more than a band-aid. Try going to a holistic yoga class to restore and reclaim your health and happiness.