Sunday, June 18, 2006

Alertness and Relaxation

Asana must have the dual qualities of alertness and relaxation.
--Yoga Sutras, 2:46

So said Patanjali a few thousand years ago.

Why those two characteristics? Shouldn’t asana have the quality of strength? Of flexibility? Of curiosity? Of contemplation?

I’ve been practicing this week trying to keep in mind the qualities of alertness and relaxation. In that practice, they seem to be connected – by their absence, if nothing else. I tend toward striving in my practice. I suspect that it isn’t coincidental that the noun for striving is strife. I frequently feel a kind of strife in various poses – backbending Crescent Lunge, Dolphin, Horse, a few others. When I move into those poses, I’ve come to expect discomfort, weakness, inflexibility. Strife, I suppose. And, of course, strife manifests not only in my mind, but in my body, as well. My toes clench the floor. Sometimes my shoulders rise toward my ears. The crease between my eyebrows deepens. The breath stops or accelerates.

Teachers pick up on those details. They coach, cajole, joke, touch, trying to draw my attention out of the strife. And always, they call for steady breath, in and out through the nose.


What is the difference between a mind that is striving and a mind that is relaxed and alert? One can engage only its own object. The other can engage everything.