There are different people with different physical fitness levels and physical limitations that come to a yoga asana class. Some of them might be very flexible and some of them are not so flexible. Some of them might be very physically fit and have no physical limitation, and some of them are not so physically fit and might have some physical limitations. It doesn’t matter what are their fitness level, strength, flexibility, stamina, ability, and physical limitation, everyone has to perform the asana exercises according to their own physical conditions and abilities.
Even though everyone is doing the same exercises, but, not necessarily that everyone will be looking the same in the exercises. Some might need to adjust a little with the feet slightly point out or the hands slightly turn out. Some might need to keep their legs slightly apart, while some might need to keep their legs together. Some might not be able to keep their body and head at the exact “angle” like what the teacher demonstrates. Some might not be able to extend their leg completely straight. Some might not be able to sit up right, maintaining the spine as straight as what the teacher usually ask them to be. And it’s okay.
Yoga, or in another terms – peace, is nothing to do with whether our body can perform the yoga exercises “perfectly” or not. So called “perfect” asana poses cannot determine or guarantee a person will be free from ignorance and suffering or not, or will be peaceful or not. If a person can be free from ignorance and suffering and attain self-realization by being very strong and flexible physically, and is able to put the body in many different types of complicated positions, then all the world class athletes, gymnasts and contortionists would already be free from ignorance and suffering and are peaceful, and be free from impurities, anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, pride, arrogance, animosity, ill-will, fear, worry, or suffering. Maybe some of them are liberated from suffering and are peaceful, but it isn’t coming from their physical conditions and abilities. Because if the peacefulness is coming from certain conditions and abilities of their physical body, then this peacefulness will change according to the impermanent changes of the condition and ability of the physical body. It is not the real peace that is unconditional.
We don’t have to be physically “perfect”, or healthy, or fit, or strong, or flexible, to have peace. Peace can be realized by anyone under any conditions as long as they know what is non-attachment, selflessness and compassion, when they know how to go beyond their own body and mind, not identifying with the body and the mind as ‘I’, and be free from craving and aversion and all sorts of impurities and ignorance. Real peace is being free from anger, hatred, greed, dissatisfaction, disappointment, animosity, envy, jealousy, pride, arrogance, ill-will, ill-thinking, feelings of hurt, guilt, regret, doubt, offensiveness, defensiveness, agitation, depression, fear and worry.
Whether we can stand on our head or not, we all can have peace.
Whether we can touch our toes with our hands or not, we all can have peace.
Whether we can put our heels down on the floor completely or not, when we perform the downward dog, we all can have peace.
Whether we can bend our body forward with our body and face completely resting on the legs or not, we all can have peace.
Whether we speak the same language or not, have the same cultural practice and religious belief or not, we all can have peace.
Whether we live a simple lifestyle or a luxurious lifestyle, we all can have peace.
As long as we know what is non-attachment.
Whether we are thin or fat, looking good or not looking good, smart or not smart, fit or unfit, flexible or not flexible, strong or not strong, healthy or not healthy, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, success or failure, young or old, men or women, single or not single, being alone or with many people around us, have an easy life or a difficult life, being here or there, doing something or not doing anything, being able to see, or hear, or smell, or taste, or touch, or think, or read, or write, or walk, or sing, or dance or not, and so on, we all can have peace.
Real peace is nothing to do with all these impermanent qualities of names and forms. Peace is already there in everyone, unconditioned and unlimited by all the qualities of names and forms. Ignorance is what makes the mind thinks it is suffering or not peaceful. We just need to free the mind from ignorance and all sorts of impurities, and go beyond the ego, the intellect, the conditional worldly thinking and belief, and be free and be at peace, resting in the one selfless, attributeless, nameless and formless nature of all the names and forms.
People who cannot sit up right due to certain physical limitations, or who cannot move the body or the limbs to perform any yoga asana poses, also can have peace if they want to, and know how to be in peace. And if a person can sit up right and perform many yoga asana poses, but doesn’t know anything about non-attachment, he or she cannot “find” peace even though he or she is “looking” for peace.
While teaching yoga asana classes, naturally I will put myself into the student’s physical conditions and limitations. I demonstrate the positions and movements in the way to suit the condition of the students physical body and their physical limitations. Such like some of them might have back problems, or knee problems, or neck injury, or muscle tightness or soreness, or flu, or nose blocked, or headache, or any physical discomforts and limitations, or just simply being unfit, lack of stamina, strength or flexibility, or have fear, I will guide them to perform the poses or movements according to their physical conditions and abilities.
The physical condition and ability in this present moment now is impermanent, it will change from moment to moment. Sometimes the body is more energetic, more strong and flexible, and sometimes the body is less energetic, less strong and flexible. We need to perform the exercises according to the condition of the body at that present moment and according to the needs of the body and the mind in the present moment.
Maybe the body needs to do more forward bending to calm down the energy field. Maybe the body needs to do more backward bending to stimulate and energize the energy level. Maybe the body is recovering from certain injuries, and we need to make some adjustment to adapt the poses or to modify some of the asana exercises. Maybe we were able to perform certain poses easily and comfortably in the past, but in the present moment, our body cannot do it comfortably. Maybe certain exercises that we didn’t feel comfortable doing in the past, but in this moment, our body can do it easily and comfortably. We let go of all the pre-judgment about what our body can do and cannot do from the past experience, and be very open-minded for what the body can do and cannot do in the present moment.
We can’t be teaching the same variations of yoga asana exercises to all the students and ask them and expecting them to be able to perform all the same asana exercises according to the “standard” of what is called “perfect asana poses or sequence”. There is no “perfect asana poses or sequence”. Everyone is “perfect” in their own way of doing it and is “perfect” being able to accept themselves as they are, and respect their body as it is, and be comfortable and relaxed in all the asana exercises, being in the present moment, be free from the past and the future, be free from judgment, comparison, expectation, craving and aversion, and be in peace.
Performing all the asana exercises or poses without judgments, comparisons and expectations, no matter what types of conditions of the physical body is, in the present moment. And from moment to moment, the conditions of the physical body is constantly changing, impermanent. We are able to observe and be aware of the present condition of the body, and are able to accept the condition of the body as it is, that in this present moment now, this is what the body can do and cannot do. Knowing that this is impermanent, without attachment towards the physical condition and ability in the present moment, we allow all the impermanent changes to be there as they are. Not comparing ourselves with anybody, not even with our own self in the past experiences.
Everyone performs the exercises or the yoga asana practice according to each individual’s present condition of the physical body, out of selflessness and compassion, without any intentions or expectations to gain any benefits from doing the practice, but allow the benefits to be there as they are, not because “I” want to gain some sorts of benefits, or want to become more healthy, or more strong, or more flexible, or more peaceful, or more happy. Not even longing to become more wise and compassionate. Wisdom and compassion is not “something” that we can gain or learn from the outside, but it’s through realization of the truth, when all the impurities and the ego is annihilated. Merely by performing the asana poses “perfectly”, or “precisely”, or in “perfect alignments”, cannot guarantee nor determine that we will be free from impurities or the ego, and be free from suffering.
Most of the time, I won’t be demonstrating the asana poses as what I usually do in my own personal practice. I will put myself into their position. I will demonstrate and perform the exercises according to what their body are capable to do and be comfortable at, allowing them to be able to relax into all the exercises without trying to imitate or compare with the teacher who are more strong and flexible than them physically. And allow them to gradually develop courage, faith, physical stamina, strength and flexibility as they practice from time to time. By showing them that even if I “cannot” extend my legs completely straight or even if I “cannot” reach forward “properly” in a forward bend, it is okay, and it doesn’t mean that we are not good at yoga, or we are not suitable to practice yoga asana exercises. We still can be in peace even though we cannot perform the yoga asana exercises or poses “nicely” or “perfectly”.
When the students are able to accept their body as it is, and be comfortable with themselves in doing the yoga asana exercises without judging themselves or comparing with anybody, and they are able to relax into the asana poses without forcing or struggling to go beyond their physical limitations, I will then show them that as they practice, the physical strength and flexibility will be improving, and they will be able to stretch their body and limbs further, and slowly they will be able to come into the asana poses which require certain degree of strength, flexibility, stamina, faith and courage.
As yoga teachers, we are there to guide the students for what their body can do in the present moment, and it changes from moment to moment. It’s not about showing them what we (our body) can do.
We cannot set a goal for the students, telling them that they have to be able to do this and that after a specific time. Everyone takes their own time to develop the fitness level of the physical body and the skills to perform the exercises. Everyone takes their own time to let go of fear and worry. Yoga asana practice is not some fitness training that everyone sets a goal for themselves, that they want to be able to achieve “such and such results” in a certain period of time. Realization won’t “happen” even though if we set ourselves 3 months, or 3 years, or 30 years time to attain realization, if we didn’t practice with the correct understanding, attitude and mentality. If we perform the practice with the right understanding and attitude, realization of the truth will happen naturally even though we didn’t have the intention or expectation to attain self-realization.
Just like when we do the yoga exercises, even though if we don’t know anything about the benefits of the exercises, the benefits will still be there. The benefits won’t change, or become more when we have expectation for the benefits. The benefits won’t disappear or become less, even if we don’t know what are the benefits of doing the exercises and without any expectation for the benefits. It will still be there.
I’ll explain to the students before they start learning and performing the yoga poses and exercises, about the pose or the exercise itself, is not something “easy” or “difficult”. It is subject to our own each individual physical condition and ability. When our body can do it and feel comfortable, our mind will judge “this is easy”. And when our body cannot do it and feel uncomfortable, our mind will judge “this is difficult”. But, the same exercise everyone is doing, some will say it’s “easy” and some will say it’s “difficult”. But, the exercise itself has no intentions or qualities to be easy or to be difficult. It is all coming from the subjective judgment in our own mind upon how our body and mind react towards the exercises. By understanding this, we learn to let go of any judgments towards everyone and everything in the world. That they are not something “bad”, and they are not something “good”. Everyone and everything is just being what it is.
After the class finished, there is no “good class” or “bad class”, as all our experiences in the class is different in each individual. Some might say its a “good class”, but, some might say its a “bad class”. Again that is nothing to do with the class itself. It is coming from each individual state of their mind. Positive mind projects everything positively. Negative mind projects everything negatively. Those who know how to go beyond positive and negative, they project everything neither positively nor negatively.
Whether it is a “good class” or a “bad class”, it is not coming from the teacher or the class. Even if the teacher taught a “great” or “awful” class.
There are many conditions that will “influence” each individual whether they will think or “judge” it is a “good class” or not. For example, maybe some people still don’t know how to let go of the ego yet, having judgment, comparison and expectation while doing the exercises, and forcing themselves to go beyond their physical limitations, and struggling in performing the exercises without respecting the conditions of their own body. They get discomfort, pain and soreness, and building up more tensions during the practice, instead of letting go of tensions and be relaxed and peaceful during and after the practice. Some people might have some physical and mental purification process going on, and they experience so much discomforts or resistance during the practice, instead of being in peace and harmony with the practice.
If we experienced a “good class” and “gain” some mental peace or physical relaxation from the practice in the class, we appreciate that present moment of how the body and mind feels, but without attachment, without craving or clinging. Know that even that peaceful moment and good feeling is momentary, it’s impermanent. It will change, be disturbed and disappear.
If we experienced a “bad class” and not “gaining” any mental peace or physical relaxation from the practice in the class, we don’t have to force ourselves to appreciate that unpleasant experience, but, just be aware of it without attachment, without generate aversion towards that “bad” experience, and let it go. Know that no matter how unpleasant it is, all are impermanent. It will change and disappear.
This understanding will lead us to be undisturbed, or unaffected, or uninfluenced, or undetermined by what we see, hear, smell, taste, touch and think. Because all the names and forms are not something “good” or something “bad”. “Good” and “bad” is coming from our own mind, it’s not coming from the objects.
This will lead us to true happiness and real peace that is unconditioned and unlimited by any qualities of names and forms or impermanence.
With this unmovable peaceful state of consciousness or awareness, we are able to perform lots of selfless compassionate actions in the world to help ourselves and the world to evolve, but, without being disturbed, or affected, or influenced, or determined by the world and the law of impermanence, and all the conditional qualities of names and forms.
Out of compassion, we perform selfless actions, and let go. Without attaching to our actions and the fruit of the actions. Without attaching to our yoga practice and the result of the yoga practice. Allow the fruit of actions and the result of the yoga practice to be there as it is. Without judgment, comparison or expectation. And be free.