Yoga With Intensity, Not Force

As teachers, we must ensure that our students work intensely, yet without force. We generally assume that working forcefully is working intensely. Not so! Force is the opposite of true intensity. We force when we are not fully present in the body, not listening, not aware, not alert – just working blindly. Intensity is powerfully focused action, where the mind, heart, and body are united in effort and directed by a vigilant consciousness, ensuring progress without force, growth without violence.

Thus, when a student is straining to open his hamstrings, take the opportunity to teach a deeper lesson. Remind him that his hamstrings resist because they are not familiar with the opening. When we forcefully yank them open, how is that different from forcefully imposing our beliefs onto others who have opposing ones? Only feeling can develop sensitivity and acceptance of an opposing viewpoint.

When you see a student pushing as hard as she can, immediately ask her questions that require her to tune in and feel her body. Ask “What are you feeling just now? Can you feel the weight on your feet? How much weight is on your fingertips?” Even something as simple as feeling a physical action will move her away from forcing. Also, always remind your students to observe their breath as they do the poses and to keep it smooth and deep, for this helps reduce forcing and, as a spiritual bonus, invites the soul into the body.

When demonstrating a pose for your students, illustrate the difference between a pose done with force and a pose done with feeling. Grit your teeth, clench your jaw, knit your brow, purse your lips, and tighten your body with grim determination, completing the pose by puffing out your chest with false pride. Then, take a deep breath, soften your body and demonstrate the pose from the serene quietness and strength of inner awareness. If you exaggerate the extremes in this way, the ensuing laughter will release tension and reduce the somber mood of an intensely focused practice. Such a comical display also gives students an indirect way of laughing at their own pretentiousness and egoistic aspirations. The clown has a high purpose – to help others see the divinity they deny.

Aadil Palkhivala©2008

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