I have been practising yoga for about six years. I practise from two different yoga streams. One stream puts value on holding the posture from an initial 30 seconds to 3 minutes. The other stream does not have holding of postures as a core value but instead sequences. I enjoy both, as they are as gentle or as strong as you want them to be. Can you illuminate on the value of holding postures in some yoga streams? Helen Campbell, Maryborough, QLD
To begin with, the Sanskrit word for yoga posture is “asana”, meaning seat. Usually we think of a seat as a place of stillness and repose, and so by definition asana traditionally involves holding. The ancient texts of yoga, the Vedas, largely support this view. But that’s not to say one approach is right. They both have benefits and the end goal is the same.
In the classic yogic text, the Bhagavad Gita, yogis were commanded to sit up straight and not to move. That was pretty much it! Many centuries later the ancient sage Patanjali, who some call the father of yoga, described a yoga posture as a seated position with steadiness and ease. He directed the yogi to quiet the body enough to turn the attention inwards towards the mind and the senses. Since then, there has been a plethora of literature that elaborates a million ways to practise yoga postures, including styles moving away from the holding of postures. This might be because of a growing need for the modern-day body to sort out its aches and pains before it is able to hold a posture still and concentrate inwards to reach enlightenment. We’ve moved far from residing in the caves of India, sitting with our legs crossed in Lotus Pose for most of the day, eating a pure diet, as the early yogis did. It is therefore not surprising that as the modern body changes, so does our approach to yoga.
From a medical perspective, the mental stillness achieved when holding postures can give benefits of relieving mild depression, lowering blood pressure and decreasing levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. On the other hand, the intensity of fluid yoga sequences increases the heart rate to assist in weight loss, blood sugar control and prevention of heart disease. However, these benefits are interchangeable depending on your approach to your practice.
Jana Zurawlenko is a Bikram Yoga teacher and soon-to-be medical graduate. She teaches privately in Sydney and runs classes and workshops, including those focused on the medical benefits of yoga, at Pure Bikram Hot Yoga in Bondi Junction. Visit www.purebikram.com.au.