Asana is the physical practice of yoga and is one of the Eight Limbs (aspects) of Yoga. For those living with chronic pain, yoga offers numerous benefits, including mindfulness and a different sense of the body (“bodyfulness”), along with improved flexibility, lessened pain, better tolerance of chronic pain. Safety in asana practice is paramount for those who have chronic pain.
Self-Judgment and Leaving One’s Ego at the Door
As a yoga teacher, we encourage those who practice asana (the physical aspect of yoga) to “leave their egos at the door”. This means learning and practicing asana necessitates the opening of one’s body and mind to all kinds of learning, including embracing failures, mistakes, feelings, and thoughts about one’s body, how we move, and how we value and judge ourselves and others. It also means yoga asana is not a competition. The learner does not need to compare their practice to anyone else, outside of the yoga teacher’s taught form. It further redirects those who practice asana toward attitudes that naturally generate optimal health and wellness behaviors and outcomes.
The yogi (term used gender-inclusively for all who practice yoga) becomes less negatively self-judgmental, learns more effectively, and begins to notice differences in how they think and move throughout daily activities, all naturally rising from asana practice.
Embracing Limitation as Challenge and as an Adaptable Reality
After an introduction to yoga asana in the early 1980s, I returned to a regular practice a little over seven years ago. At nearly 65 years of age and after 22 years of living with the daily challenge of chronic pain, there are some intermediate and advanced asanas that I cannot do. My attitude is to continue to learn them or to accept that there are some asanas that I may not be able to ever practice. However, there are so very many others that I can do, so I choose to focus on them.
As a teacher living with chronic pain, yoga asana or the physical practice and most visible of the eight aspects of yoga called “limbs”, keeps me in balance, focused on life-affirming thoughts, attitudes, and practices, and strengthens my health and wellness. This balance and wellness arises from persistent practice which is based on safety and which embraces errors, mistakes, and self-judgments as simply part of the process of learning.
Yoga Asana’s Natural Benefit is Mindfulness and Bodyfulness
The other way we benefit from yoga is that asana, even while learning, readily generates mindfulness as a natural outcome. The physicality of asana similarly generates a different sense of the body, a “bodyfulness”, that emerges along with mindfulness. For many who live with chronic pain or other somatic symptoms, after distancing ourselves from our bodies and mentally compartmentalizing to cope and adapt, our learning to approach and eventually re-embrace our bodies and physicality returns a sense of wholeness, strengthening and expanding our innate resilience.
On balance, when safely and mindfully practiced regularly – or even semi-regularly – yoga asana can make significant and lasting changes to one’s life quality, health, and wellness.
There are many ways to adopt a routine and a few for failing to incorporate a health or fitness routine into one’s life. If you are like most people, you’ve likely begun and dropped countless health or fitness routines. For me, it’s been running, jogging, hiking, yoga, weight-lifting, etc. Two health and fitness practices that have stuck in my life are hiking and daily yoga practice.
In the pursuit of acquiring a healthier lifestyle and optimizing wellness, here are 7 Principles for Embedding a New Health or Fitness Routine.
- A slowly tapering, practiced habit sticks for life. This means start gently, slowly build, and persist in practicing.
- One must not skip practice. If a daily practice is missed for any reason, just do it the next day and don’t get hung up over missing a session.
- One must daily make a note of their practice. The Seinfeld Method of not breaking the “chain” of habit is a sound one. Either using a digital prompt – like a task app on a smart device or computer – or an old-fashioned calendar on which a simple note or checkmark is made, every day note one’s practice. A small notebook for logging practice works quite well.
- One must share with others to socially contract the plan, progress, and outcome of practice. This emphasizes a commitment to actually doing the work of the practice and heightens the likelihood of practicing. This is an excellent use of social media and of personal networks of friends or family.
- One must establish, then broaden, and then deepen one’s practice. First things first: just start doing it and keep doing it, then broaden aspects of the health and fitness routine, and then deepen the practice. An example here is performing the Warrior Pose II (Virabhadrasana II): first, carefully imitate the posture (called an asana in yoga) and establish it in one’s daily life, then slowly learn the technique from the feet upward and broaden the practice, and then deepen the practice by adding correct breathing (called pranayama in yoga).
- One must be mindful during and about one’s practice. Mindfulness means being present in the practice or fully aware
and conscious of one’s thoughts and movements about the practice when not performing it. This means holding and practicing affirming or positive thoughts about it, as in mentally declaring that one will hike or walk or do yoga at such-and-such a time, and train one’s thoughts to focus on the practice while doing it. Although this sounds easy, some individuals in our hurry-hurry-hurry world find this challenging. The best counsel here is practice mindfulness, read about it, and practice more.
- One must continue to acquire new knowledge and skills. It is well documented that fitness routines must be shaken up and changed, otherwise one’s mind becomes bored and tends to avoid practicing. After establishing, broadening, and deepening one’s practice, the next logical step is to continue enhancing the practice.
The idea here is to select a health or fitness method, learn about it, practice it, and embed it into one’s life. Persistence is key and these principles will aid in elevating one’s wellness and health.
As Virgil declared: Fortune sides with him who dares. So, dare to start and dare to embed a new health or fitness routine.