Yoga has become the fitness mantra. Most of us are either going to classes learning and/or teaching yoga asanas or at least have heard about yoga in the popular form (Based on a 2016 “Yoga in America” study by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, there are 36.7 million practitioners in US alone) . Why is yoga thriving? Well, it’s most obvious benefits at physical, mental, and emotional level are increased flexibility, fitness, and overall health and well-being. However, yoga goes beyond that and the health benefits are only side effects of the authentic practice. Though asana practice may also be used as a stepping stool into better understanding of authentic practice if the seeking is genuine. Patanjali describes the eight-fold path through yoga sutras:
To see yoga in any other form than in its wholeness or entirety is a mere part and not the whole. To quote from Swami Jnaneshwar Bharti’s article “Modern Yoga versus Traditional Yoga”:
“The word "yoga" has become a homonym, with a traditional meaning having to do with the realization through direct experience of the preexisting union between Atman and Brahman, Jivatman and Paramatman, and Shiva and Shakti, or the realization of Purusha standing alone as separate from Prakriti, and the modern meaning of yoga as any of a wide variety of physical fitness or exercise routines.”
When one experiences this authentic yoga or union, and through practice, enter voluntarily into this state of union, anything that individual does or does not do, transforms lives. That is to say, their being is a blessing and to come into contact and learn from that one, sets one onto their own journey towards yoga.
When all the eight-limbs of Patanjali’s yoga sutras are incorporated into such practice of asanas with genuine heart, it encompasses and involves the whole life and being and propels one towards this union.
Each one of us is unique in terms of how we learn:
• Some are visual, i.e. sight, so printed exercises are beneficial or demonstration works well for these individuals.
• Some learn from listening i.e. sound, so instructions on how to exercise verbally and being motivated by listening to success stories.
• Yet some learn through touch i.e. sensory facilitation and manual therapy is key to serve as a reminder of ideal movement patterns.
While there may be predominance of one, the other methods contribute to some extent and most of us are mixed learners.
The long term goal is the highest goal one may achieve and the amazing thing is all of us are moving towards this- our own ideal. The truth is all fields and every path taken in this world -healthcare, engineering, aeronautics, marine biology, and agriculture (you name it!) – leads to this one goal only.
The whole basis of physical therapy is to alleviate pain and re-learn a good movement pattern, till we encounter the ideal. What next? Once one experiences this ideal pattern, it is so effortless and exhilarating, it easily becomes the “long term goal.” This “long term” (as a function of time) varies for each one of us, based on where we are on the “learning curve.” In my view learning never ends, however one may begin on the lowest rung of a ladder and climb all the way to the top and master one type of learning. At this point two paths open up- demonstrating this path to others along the way and the opportunity to climb with a rope or a pole or even the stairs! And so on and on. When a physical therapist works with a client from this perspective, he/she is open to both learning from and teaching the client on a day to day basis. It also explains why some are faster learners (being on varying rungs of the ladder).
Since the body is an amazing instrument (portable, movable, and evolving- a wonder of wonders!) we all learn through the body (involution and pure consciousness). One of the pet goals we physical therapists have is to “rehabilitate the (client) individual back into a contributing member of the community.” Herein comes physical therapy as facilitator to achieving this ideal movement pattern. Another view changer- our problems recur, just so we may learn and learn the truth well and see it from various perspectives and include all. Steadily we must move towards this highest goal.
This is a unique post perhaps in physical therapy- not because the subject has never been broached, albeit the new perspective or viewing lens provides an ever refreshing outlook. Why do problems recur and why is the human spirit kindled by the challenge to seek a solution?
The big question is why do pain or injury recur? And why does one seek well-being or in other words want to be pain free and fit or healthy beyond that, in these situations? Our body is an amazing “instrument” to realizing this.
Pain is both objective and subjective. It is a well-known fact among the medical community that the physical changes seen on various investigative procedures like x-rays, MRI’s, and body scans do not correspond with the subjective feeling the individual is undergoing. Hence history taking is an important art in understanding the depth of perception of the individual. However, it is also true that nerve endings in partially damaged tissues result in pain directly proportional to extent of damage. The individual mind interprets and perceives it differently, hence the subjectivity of pain. Another well-known fact in medical community is that when tissue damage is complete and the nociceptive nerve endings are destroyed, there is no pain or sensation associated with such an injury. This transcendence (“existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level.” ) or complete severance of association with pain is what yogis do best. And it takes tremendous practice to attain to this stage, though each one of us has access to this.
To quote from last weeks post:
“Yoga makes it possible to transcend the senses, mind, identity (or ego), and intellect. With anything in life, this should be the goal, not just a change in physical field. Truly, when approached from this perspective, movement patterns may be transcended, so that they are automatic at an intuitive or pure conscious level. Where one need not think and the movement/ action that takes place is nothing but the best and yet at a moments’ notice, the process of transcendence must be clearly available.”
Here I would like to point out the difference between sub consciousness and pure consciousness. When a thought is subconscious, it refers to mastery gained through evolution- that is a “process of formation” for survival purpose only. In other words, learning for which the knowledge of process is lost. This is devoid of true spirit or let’s just say has the spirit concealed, resulting in an inability to respond as needed. When learning is mingled with involution which is a sort of self-knowledge of reality of its being, it is pure consciousness. In other words the knowledge that a movement pattern good or bad will not last forever, so what is the fear for? This realization is freedom in utmost pinnacle or liberty to sense, perceive, and live per choice. This liberty to act comes with great responsibility and using the intellect wisely, knowing time is precious. This knowledge is retained intuitively and leads to transformation so that new movement pattern is not forgotten by the body itself through ideal alignment, biomechanics, and kinetics. Thus, the senses, mind, and body are aligned with the spirit.
Changing a movement pattern from subconscious and replacing with a new pattern in subconscious is a kind of “compensation”. One dysfunctional pattern for another. One is an iron chain, the other gold…. And to a yogi, there is no difference between the two, a chain is a chain!
Movement patterns which are dysfunctional become automatic and ingrained in the sub-conscious mind. These are habitual, hence necessity of “breaking a habit.” The role of physical therapy is to bring this into awareness so that it may be “un-learned” and to demonstrate the ideal movement pattern which one must re-learn consciously (pure conscious), and repeat till this in turn becomes automatic i.e. it can be brought into mind at will and the steps of transformation are known (sound familiar to postural muscles?). This is the process
(P.S: The image is modified on Paint 3D from
Yoga is “[the process of starting with the gross and outer, and going ever subtler and inner.]”
Since we are considering the body as an instrument in the path of yoga, the last post was dedicated to the unsung heroes of our body the involuntary muscles that keep life going. The postural or support muscles are skeletal muscles with the ability to work automatically or involuntarily, and yet strengthen voluntarily. Their function is to work beyond our conscious mind (i.e. within the active unconscious mind) with us being unaware of these without focused attention. These are kind of like the sun and moon which are always present in the sky. Though the sun is very stable, it is the movement of the earth that gives the appearance of sunrise- sunset. The heart and lung muscles and other smooth muscles are like the sun and the supporting postural muscles like the moon, which reflects light from the sun and illumines the night sky. In other words, in the scheme of things, they are in micro-cosm, much as in the macro-cosm. This phenomenon is going on around us in many different levels, like the multiple planets all revolving around the sun in their respective orbits.
Here let us keep our attention to our bodies and its being an instrument. Though physical therapy mainly is concerned by effecting change through the body, it is not body in physical sense alone. It includes the whole being, including mind and intellect for this purpose. Once these dysfunctional patterns are identified, brought into awareness and practices incorporated to change these to functional patterns consciously, these patterns may be “transcended” so to speak. Transcendence is defined as “existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level.”
The individual mind is influenced by the sense (sensory) perceptions (visual, proprioception through joint, muscle and skin receptors, and positional receptors in the inner ear or vestibular canals in medical terminology). However the thought patterns which manifest as movement patterns of the body may be regulated or controlled through higher intelligence (cerebral cortex), thus adding a voluntary component to movement. Once a movement pattern is mastered, with practice, it must be transcended or “witnessed” as in observing the process take place within yourself. Once completely absorbed in this movement pattern, one comes to a realization “I never thought this was possible” or into the realm of impossible or “not the doer.” So to attain this state of mastery over a movement pattern, requires tremendous concentration, (since dysfunctional patterns are habitual and occur without conscious knowledge), to bring it to conscious awareness and then controlling the latent tendency to go into the dysfunctional pattern, making a conscious effort into functional pattern. When this is repeatedly practiced, it breaks the old pattern with functional pattern employed more frequently, till even this is mastered and the functional pattern displays regularly or consistently. Once you do this with one pattern, now it is easier to apply the process to another pattern. And not only that, now automatically, your observation and discrimination, has become so keen that you notice functional and dysfunctional patterns with ease and may employ the process intuitively, as needed. This results in inherent stability within movement patterns.
Yoga makes it possible to transcend the senses, mind, identity (or ego), and intellect. This should be the goal, not just a change in physical field. Truly, when approached from this perspective, movement patterns may be transcended, so that they are automatic at an intuitive or pure conscious level. Where one need not think and the movement/ action that takes place is nothing but the best and yet at a moments’ notice, the process of transcendence must be clearly available.
Ami Gandhi is a licensed physical therapist in the state of California. She is the owner of StableMovement Physical Therapy, a small boutique practice in San Jose that offers patient centered, one-on-one, hands-on physical therapy.