Just like everything else, physical exercises are neither good nor bad. If it is being performed with some basic knowledge and understanding of how to perform the exercises with care and attentiveness, as well as without the influence of egoism and attachment, then it will bring benefits to the body and mind. If it is being done under the influence of egoism and attachment, without the basic knowledge and understanding, nor with care and attentiveness, then it might cause unnecessary tension, stress, damages or injuries to the body and mind.
At any stages in life from young to old, the physical body needs to be performing some forms of regular physical exercises to improve and maintain its good health and fitness level. The intensity of the exercises should be within the effort according to the physical condition and ability in that moment. Some forms of gentle exercises for about half an hour to an hour a day will be sufficient to achieve the benefits of physical exercises. Over exercising or performing strenuous physical exercises that is beyond the effort of the physical condition and ability in that moment can cause short term or long term damages or injuries to the physical body.
The body needs certain degrees of ‘stress’ to maintain its bone density and muscular strength. But excessive ‘stress’ that can cause over-stimulation to the entire body systems, energy depletion or over-exhaustion, and muscular tendons injuries, isn’t necessary. What’s the point when we try to make the body fitter and healthier, but being disappointed, or dissatisfied, or frustrated, or unhappy about oneself imposed by some negative judgment, comparison and expectation coming from oneself towards one’s physical condition and ability, or the physical performance and achievement.
Yoga is not a physical exercise as some people think it is. Yoga asana practice is one part of the many types of yoga practice. Yoga asana practice involves physical movements that will give the similar effects of performing any physical exercises. These effects of physical exercise that we attain from performing regular yoga asana practice is just a side-effect from the practice, it is not the goal of the practice.
Physical exercises don’t guarantee anyone to be peaceful and compassionate. But yoga, which is the mental exercises or internal observations, if being practiced with the correct understanding and attitude, can bring oneself to realize unconditional peace and compassion, that is undetermined by the physical conditions and abilities.
Yoga asana practice is like everything else, it is neither good nor bad. It has no quality nor intention to generate pleasantness or unpleasantness, positive effects or negative effects to the practitioner. Yoga asana practice being performed regularly without the influence of the egoism and attachment will bring oneself towards peace beside getting the physical and mental effects of physical exercises. If it is being done under the influence of the egoism and attachment, it might cause tension, stress, damages or injuries to one’s body and mind.
Although regular physical exercise doesn’t guarantee us to be free from ignorance and egoism, or be free from unhappiness and suffering, it can help us to develop higher energy level, strengthening the body systems, improve physical stamina, physical strength and flexibility, to lower the risk of incurring diseases and lower the risk of physical injuries, promote good health, alertness, positive thinking, cheerfulness, determination, perseverance and tolerance to deal with unexpected or undesirable situations that may arise in everyday life more efficiently and easily.
The effects of physical exercises are beneficial for both physical and mental health and fitness, to allow us to enjoy a better quality of life, to allow ourselves to have the good physical and mental condition, the clear thinking ability, the strength and mobility, and the higher energy level to perform selfless service for oneself and others. But no matter how much we try to maintain the good condition of this physical body, it is still subject to changes, decay, injury, pain, discomfort, stiffness, weakness, old age and decomposition.
Appreciate and take good care of this physical body as well as the mind, but without identification with the body and mind as who ‘I’ am, and without attachment towards the impermanent changes of the body and mind. Allow the impermanent changes to be what they are, without craving for particular conditions, nor aversion towards certain conditions. Make good use of the good condition of the body and mind that is available now, to be doing something beneficial for ourselves and for others, without identification with the actions and the fruit of actions, without attachment towards the actions or the fruit of actions.
There’s nothing wrong with performing the yoga asana exercises with proper alignment and adjustment from the teacher to gain maximum benefits, as well as to ensure maximum safety, or minimize the risk of injuries, in the standpoint for safe and effective physical exercise.
Yoga is about unconditional peace and compassion through the realization of the truth, free from ignorance, egoism, identification, attachment, craving and aversion, and all sorts of impurities. Yoga asana practice is one of the many ways to help to influence the state of the mind, prepare the mind for meditation.
Does it mean that when the students are able to perform the yoga asana exercises with the perfect correct alignment and with some adjustments from the teacher to make the postures as ‘good’, as ‘correct’, as ‘perfect’, as ‘graceful’, or as ‘beautiful’ as much as possible, then they will be peaceful and compassionate, and will be free from ignorance, egoism, identification and attachment? And if the students are not able to perform the yoga asana practice with the perfect correct alignment and don’t make any adjustments to make the postures as ‘good’, as ‘correct’, as ‘perfect’, as ‘graceful’, or as ‘beautiful’ as much as possible, then they will not be peaceful and compassionate, and won’t be free from ignorance, egoism, identification and attachment? Does everyone need to be able to go beyond certain degrees of flexibility to be able to see the truth?
No doubt that the body and mind will feel good when the body is able to do what we want to do, to achieve certain results that we want to achieve, but this is just some momentary satisfaction, pride and good feelings coming from gratifying the desires of craving and aversion, through getting the things that we like and want the way that we like it to be, and by not getting anything that we don’t like and don’t want. It is not the unconditional peace that is undetermined by the qualities of names and forms.
Yoga asana practice is nothing to do with perfect physical alignment, nor it’s about making the body to be more strong and flexible than it is now. It is also has nothing to do with adjusting the yoga asana poses until we think it is ‘good’, ‘right’, ‘perfect’, ‘graceful’, or ‘beautiful’ enough. Nor does yoga has anything to do with what kind of benefits that we are getting from performing all these yoga asana practice. The benefits will be there as they are as we perform our practice, but all these benefits cannot guarantee the practitioners to be free from ignorance and egoism, and realize unconditional peace and compassion. That’s why there might be people who practice yoga asana regularly for years, and getting all the benefits from the yoga asana practice, but they might still be disturbed, affected, influenced and determined by the qualities of names and forms, and have no peace. Some people may never perform any yoga asana exercises, not to say in perfect correct alignment, but they are peaceful and compassionate.
By giving some instructions about the ‘correct’ alignment, and making everyone in the class to be doing the yoga asana exercises in accordance to the ‘correct’ alignment has nothing to do with the realization of unconditional peace and compassion in the yoga practitioners. It is the teachings and practice of letting go of the egoism, attachment, identification, craving and aversion, and free from being affected or influenced by the past memories and the future anticipations or projections, free from judgment, comparison, expectation, anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, dissatisfaction, disappointment, pride, arrogance, feelings of hurt or guilt, agitation, depression, anxiety, doubt, fear and worry, that allow one to be peaceful and compasionate. One doesn’t need to be able to perform the yoga asana poses with the perfect correct alignment to achieve that.
Everyone has a different body with different physical limitations. Many of the perfect correct alignments are beyond the physical limitations of some people. It is not natural nor comfortable for some people to perform certain exercises in accordance to the perfect correct alignment, and thus unnecessary tension is generated in the mind, and injuries are generated in the physical body, when they try to do the exercises or poses to meet up the requirement for perfect correct alignment, and forcing their body to go beyond its limitations.
It’s about to go beyond all the qualities of names and forms, to realize attributelessness, namelessness and formlessness, and to go beyond all the identifications with the body and the mind, as well as the attachment towards all the qualities of names and forms to be who we are. It’s not about to go beyond the physical limitations, by challenging the physical body to be more strong and more flexible than it is now, and pushing the body to go beyond its limitations, generating unnecessary tension and injuries onto the body.
It is aware of the reality, and allow the reality to be what it is. It is accepting the physical condition and abilities in the present moment now as it is, without attachment nor identification with the physical condition and abilities to be who we are. Knowing that even this present condition and abilities of the physical body is impermanent and it will change, and allow all the impermanent changes to be what they are, from moment to moment.
Everyone just need to perform the exercises or poses at their own capacity and at their own ease, in accordance to their physical condition and abilities in the present moment now, without any judgment, comparison, expectation, craving and aversion. There’s no stress or tension generated in the mind, and there is minimal risk of injuries when they perform all the exercises in a relaxed manner and moving into the poses calmly and gently, without forcing the body to go beyond its limitations. Everyone might look differently from one another while doing the same type of exercises or poses, as they all have different flexibility and limitations. And it’s fine.
It’s about performing all our practice, actions, duties and responsibilities towards oneself and others out of compassion, without attachment towards the actions and the fruit of actions. There’s no expectation towards any benefits of the yoga asana practice, nor expectation towards the results or benefits of the yoga asana practice to be the way that we think it should be, but allow the results or the benefits to be there as they are.
May all be free through self-inquiry.
Due to some physical limitations, or injuries, or weakness, or stiffness, or diseases, some people might be limited from performing some of the yoga asanas.
It’s totally okay if someone cannot perform some or all of the yoga asanas. It doesn’t limit anyone to realize selflessness to be free from ignorance and egoism, and realize unconditional love and peace.
As selflessness, peace and compassion is not determined by how many yoga poses one can perform, nor how ‘good’ can one execute the yoga poses.
Everyone and anyone also can practice yoga and be free, but it is an undeniable fact that not all the yoga asana exercises are suitable for everyone, nor anybody should be performing all the yoga asanas disregards their physical limitations.
Yoga is not at all to push the body to go beyond its limitations, nor to make it stronger or more flexible, but it is to go beyond all the identifications with impermanent qualities of names and forms, and realize attributelessness, namelessness and formlessness.
One should be more calm and relaxed by performing the yoga asana exercises instead of feeling intimidated or frustrated by some of the yoga asana exercises that one couldn’t perform due to some physical limitations.
Yoga and its practice are not meant to be some kind of pleasurable sensual enjoyment such like paying some money for getting some service like spa treatments. It is a practice to develop dispassion or disinterest in pleasurable sensual enjoyment to let go of craving and aversion.
Yoga and meditation practice is a process to change the old habits of the mind that have been there deep rooted for a long time influencing the mind for as long as we live. It is stop giving what the mind likes and wants. It is calming the mind and stop stimulating the mind. It is quite unpleasant for the mind in the beginning of the yoga and meditation practice as it takes some time for the mind and the body to adjust, to adapt, or to get use to something that it wasn’t familiar with, or to develop interest in something that it never interested before. As well as it is unpleasant for the mind to be not having something that it was addicted to, or used to familiar with. It is about letting go of desires of wants and don’t wants. It is not about fulfilling the desires of wants and don’t wants. The mind will resist. The mind will want to runaway.
If our will-power is weak, we will give in to the desires of the mind, and give ourselves many reasons or excuses why we should not continue the yoga and meditation practice temporary or permanently, and instead we look for some other activities that the mind enjoys, likes and craves for, to make the mind feels pleasant, stimulated, or excited.
We often hear many ‘yoga’ enthusiasts say, “I love yoga. I want to practice yoga. Yoga makes me feel so good.” But then when they experience some discomforts or unpleasantness physically, mentally and emotionally, they want to runaway. They complain this is not the yoga that they were expecting, that the yoga and meditation practice is not the way that they think it should be. They say they only want yoga that will give them pleasant sensations and which is enjoyable. They don’t want yoga that doesn’t give them what they want and like. Be happy. In the end it is our own freedom for what we want for our life, and what we want to do with our body and mind. We take full responsibility for the consequences of our actions derived from our desires of wants and don’t wants.
In order to allow the physical body to be able to perform the yoga asana poses comfortably, our body and mind will have to go through some unpleasant purification process while developing the skills, stamina, strength, flexibility, patience, perseverance, determination, forbearance, tolerance, acceptance, adjustment, adaptation, accommodation, concentration, non-attachment, non-identification, non-expectation, non-judgment, non-comparison, faith and courage to be able to perform and hold the yoga asana poses comfortably for a period of time effortlessly without struggling. And this will allow us to realize selflessness and compassion. It is not at all about how good we look and feel during and after the yoga asana practice, nor what type of benefits we are going to get from performing all these yoga asana poses.
Money cannot buy love, peace, compassion and wisdom. It takes some efforts, self-control, self-discipline, patience, perseverance, determination, will-power, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, adjustment, adaptation, accommodation, for us to eliminate egoism, attachment, desires, greed, craving and aversion from the mind to be free from ignorance and impurities, and to realize unconditional love, peace, compassion and wisdom.
Greed is also associated with stinginess. It’s like, “If I can just pay as little money as possible and get as many things in return as possible, that would be very nice…”
Even highly intelligent or educated people might be influenced by stinginess and greed, and are not free.
Before we start practicing yoga, we need to learn to let go of stinginess and start to be generous.
If we cannot understand why we should let go of stinginess and be generous before we start to perform any yoga practice, we can never realize what is selflessness and compassion, even though we can be attending many yoga classes or yoga courses to learn and perform some forms of yoga practice, or if we have been practicing yoga asana for many years and our body has developed the skill, strength and flexibility to perform many yoga asana exercises beautifully in perfect alignment. All these qualities of names and forms have very little to do with what yoga really is.