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March 2013 – The Impracticality of Yoga

Dear Yoga Friends,

Someone watching an asana class might pose the question: "Why are all these people taking time out of their busy lives to put their bodies in these unusual positions? Or someone peeking into a room in which tadasana is being taught might well question whether anything is going on at all. These reactions raise the larger question of whether yoga has any practical value whatsoever. Will practicing yoga help put food on your table or help you to reproduce? The funniest thing about this is that yoga helps with these basic animal drives, and then goes on to help in more profound ways.

About those odd positions, why should putting my foot behind my head be of any value? Rest assured it's not. But those of us with stiffer hips find that problems surface in our knees, ankles, backs, and necks as a result of that local tightness. Why? The simplistic answer is that more flexible parts of our bodies can overwork and misalign themselves to compensate, eventually leading to pain. So the process of working safely to put your foot behind your head may provide you with the range of movement needed to avoid injury elsewhere.

If you need to forage for food, won't you be more efficient about that if you have a greater pain-free range of motion in your joints? About reproduction, there are just too many hilarious points to make. But the most serious one is, what values are you planning to pass along? The yoga sutras describe a mental discipline built on a foundation of social and personal values, e.g., non-violence, truthfulness, contentment, and zeal. The asana work we do in yoga builds on and reinforces this foundation.

We can keep going on here. Why the heck would anyone want to go upside down and stay that way for ten minutes? When will this skill ever prove helpful in life? There are many documented physiological reasons why inversions improve health and well being. But maybe the least practical reason for doing this is that it forces you to view the world from a completely different perspective. And then there is the ultimate reason for yoga practice, the state of mind to which it leads. This could be both the least and most practical result of practicing yoga. Take your pick...



Chad Balch