Some teachers encourage their students to stretch before they start class, or, before entry to more challenging postures, for example, you see this encouraged a lot before kapotasana or eka pada sirsasana of the intermediate series. Whist, there are certainly worse things in life one could do, I don’t believe this is beneficial for engendering the right attitude towards practice. Hard to imagine, but it can actually be counter productive and make one stiffer.
In fact, the issue shows how the fundamental perspective involved in the yoga philosophy and prescribed to the way we practice, runs in absolute conflict, headfirst into the Western belief in the preeminence of individual rational perception. For, in the yoga practice, we try to give ourselves over to the unknown, the formless, maybe even a higher power, through drawing our attention away from the mind into the body and breath working in synchronicity. The yoga aspirant tries to be present in current experience which means also to accept.
However, as yoga reaches new height of popularity away from India it becomes watered down and detached from its roots. We take it like we do everything else, with a very literal-minded focus on getting something quantifiable out of it and have the need for perceivable progress. We can’t measure calmness, a deeper connection within, greater peace of mind, so that does not factor in. More concerning still, with the greater commercialisation of yoga, if you can’t see it, or post a photo of it, you can’t sell it. We are not being encouraged to look within as it doesn’t make money.
This stretching instruction confirms the message to the practitioner their natural inclination to approach the practice from the head, to analyse it and get the best out of it as an individual. This all makes logical sense, but if you want to talk about ego, this is it. To narrow one’s field of perception to what one already knows and immediately concerns us and then concentrate on that to the exclusion of anything else.
However, it is in this narrowing, this focus on the obvious over attention to the postures, and not the far greater quality, still indescribable, on the breath and a presence of being, that we strain our bodies and minds seeking a ‘deepening’ or ‘greater alignment’ and actually tighten up with the stress and struggle of trying to escape the present to something better.
The practice is the stretch and it is enough. Accept it as it is, sometimes great, sometimes a little disappointing, but always an attempt to let-go, go beyond our individual perfunctory assumptions about life, our petty selfishness, obsessed about getting what we think we want. Instead, transcend all this and discover the great jewel that lies hidden in the middle of all this circus; peace of mind and spirit.