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What are Yoga Asanas and Why Practice Them?

© Donna Farhi

How do we go about doing this work without becoming discouraged by the enormity of the task? Unless we can find a way to practice with joyfulness, working with our difficulties rather than against, them, practice will be an experience of frustration and disappointment. Unless we can find a way to enjoy what we are doing right now, yoga practice will become a negative time, and ultimately we'll develop a strong resistance even to stepping onto the mat.

A story may help you to understand what I mean. Many years ago I moved into a derelict house. The back door was nailed shut and had not been opened for fifteen years; once pried open it revealed a six-foot wall of seemingly impenetrable blackberry bushes, vines, and crabgrass. I wanted a garden. For many months I looked in despair through the window of the back door. The task seemed too large and. too difficult. Then I decided upon a strategy that my mind could grasp. I decided that I would divide the project into four-foot increments. Every week I would clear a four-foot patch of garden. The backyard was sixty-five feet long! As I would begin to dig and root, cutting and pulling my tiny patch, I resolved that I would focus my attention only on the four-foot patch. I would not even look at the other sixty-one feet of garden left to clear. Within minutes of beginning I would become completely absorbed in the insects, the tiny plants uncovered, and the pleasure of digging my hands into the brown earth. Each four-foot patch took about three hours because the crabgrass had to be dug out completely and the earth was rock hard. But three hours a week was an easily manageable commitment. When I was finished with the patch, I would step back and admire my good work, never allowing myself to consider the chaotic mess left remaining. How wonderful it looked! Each four-foot patch was a unique wonder. Pathways buried two feet under emerged. A lawn mower, enveloped by grass (proof of the law of karma), was discovered. Not only was the task challenging, it became an adventure, and I eagerly anticipated what I might find each week. Within a year I had a beautiful lawn, an herb garden, and a patch of flowers to enjoy. But, more important, I enjoyed the process of transforming an inhospitable patch of ground into an urban paradise.

When you begin to practice, you may feel very bound in your body and mind, not unlike the densely woven crabgrass of my garden. You can choose to fight with yourself, pulling and tugging on yourself as a way to force your own metamorphosis. If you've ever encountered a weed with deep roots, you know the futility of pulling at the stem knowing full well some digging is in order! There's a moment when you can cheerfully accept the task and set to it with full vigor, or turn sour and miserable in the face of such work. There's a moment when you can resign yourself to the patient work ahead or give in to the impulse to pull on the stem before the ground has been dug deep enough. The first step is accepting that some deep work needs to be done and then deciding to make this a positive, uplifting experience.

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About The Author
Donna Farhi is a Yoga teacher who has been practicing for 30 years and teaching since 1982. She leads intensives and teacher training programs internationally. Donna is best known for her unique ability to help students and teachers alike access a deeper connection with the body as a vehicle for the regeneration of the spirit. Donna has been the asana columnist for both Yoga......more
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