What is the purpose of yoga? Why am I here? Why does it work?
Corrinne and Megan recently spent four days with Rajashree carefully (and intensely) examining these questions. Both in theory and in (rigorous) practice.
Rajashree meets you where you are and gives you what you need. She started studying yoga at the age of three and went on to become five-time yoga champion. She raised two healthy children in Hollywood, of all places. She has remained graciously and resolutely married to Bikram for 30-odd years. Most importantly, Rajashree is a devoted yoga scholar.
The Sanskrit text of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras formed the basis of our discussions.
We talked about life-transforming ideas.
“Yoga is seeing life the way it is”, says Patanjali in Yoga Sutra 1:2.
Says Rajashree, “The body needs to move or the mind is crazy. It’s not easy to control the mind. The physical body is the place where we can reach out to the mind. Yoga opens your eyes.” Misconceptions–physical, energetic, mental, and emotional–cloud our perceptions. And cause us unnecessary suffering. In asana practice, we learn to connect to the physical body and to the breath. These are the easiest places to start, and they give us access to the deeper layers (Koshas) of the body: emotion, wisdom and bliss.
“Yoga makes you YOU,” says Bikram, and Rajashree’s message was much the same. The practice reveals to you your true nature. It teaches you to know yourself…and then, gradually over time, to love yourself.
“The goal is achieved through intensive practice,” Yoga Sutra 1:21
Rajashree told us that there were no limits to what we could do. “You worry that you will overstretch the limits of the body. You will NEVER overstretch. You will NEVER reach a limit. If you control the breath and practice mindfully, you will go far. We (teachers) don’t force you. YOU yourself are responsible for pushing farther.”
We believed her. So we practiced hard. And often. First sets–dedicated to strength building–were seemingly endless. “Make up your mind! Your kicking foot will NOT touch the floor for 60 seconds!” Second sets–targeting flexibility–were perhaps a tiny bit shorter. Sometimes. Detailed, nuanced–and challenging–individual corrections were continuous.
“Steady, ease-filled practice leads to harmony.” Yoga Sutra 2:46
Not only did Raj want us to work hard, she also wanted us to enjoy every moment. “Pain is temporary. You will cross through it. Pain shows you the problem, the limitation, the inflexibility. Try to find a pure place in EVERY posture.”
Yoga is medicine. Raj does believe that western medicine plays a critical role in overall wellness. However, she thinks each of us is–to a large extent–the master of our own fate. When you go to the doctor, you put your faith in someone else. In yoga, you are an active advocate for your own health. A participant. The only side effects are positive ones. The benefits were discussed in careful detail. You will be hearing more about them in class.
Moreover, says Rajashree, it’s cost effective. A drop-in class is $20. A visit to a medical specialist (albeit sometimes necessary) could set you back $250.