Types of Practice
In case you haven’t guessed, I really love the practice of asana. In particular, I love the slow dance of a vinyasa flow practice. I love the way I have come to know my body through the practice. I love the way it stills my mind. I love the way it connects me with the grace of God.
As my practice has grown - and in particular, as it has become a near daily part of my life, I’ve begun to notice different “flavors” to the practice. It is a different practice on different days, depending on what I need, and it seemed like a good idea to write them down and share themm with you.
A technical practice is almost the opposite of an emo practice. This is when the attention is directed towards refinement of asana and vinyasa. This is where most home yoga pratice starts; the attempt to develop a facility with movement taught during class times is essentially a technical practice.
Technical practice is essential to every other type of asana practice. It is how we develop safe and effective habits of movement that carry over into all of the other kinds of practice.
Given that every body has injuries, a therapeutic practice is closely related to the technical practice, but the attention is directed towards either providing relief or promoting recovery in some part of the body. The intensity of effort is usually lower, although the intensity of sensation may be even greater. This does not mean engaging with the pain, nor seeking it out. It does mean becoming comfortable with discomfort, and learning to listen closely to what it has to say.
It also means recognizing limits and working creatively with them. One of my favorite teachers, Jeanne Heilemann, taught a class here in Dublin a few years ago based on a sequence she developed while nursing a knee injury when she was medically restricted from putting any weight on it. That class was easily the most intense abdominal workout I have ever experienced, on top of giving me the first real sensation of what “lengthening your spine” really means.
I like emo practice the best. Its the one where you just move as you are moved by the energy within you. The emphasis is totally on what you feel. Right. Fucking. Now. Whether that’s an intense stretch, intense effort, or an intense emotion doesn’t matter at all. What matters is that it is here and now; raw and real. This is just a time to be fully present with yourself: strength and injury, joy and sadness, anger and acceptance. Emo practice is all about the inner fire becoming evident.
In some ways an emo practice is much like a prayer practice; but the intention is different. Emo practice is expression. It is the Shiva Tandava arising from our own hearts.
The maintenance practice is something I have only discovered as my practice has truly become a daily practice over an extended period. Sometimes, I come to the mat just because that is what I do, and my work there is primarily to preserve the abilities developed through all the other aspects of my practice. This is a good thing, especially now that I have an older body - it really appreciates being shown love on a regular basis. Maintenance keeps old injuries from freezing up, and helps prevent new ones from forming. It also keeps the mind open to the ever-changing ability of the body – when the balance you practiced with ease yesterday is just a complicated way to fall down today, you learn a bit more about what “living in the moment” really means.
This is where the practice of yoga asana gets really cosmic. When you gather the energy and attention of the physical practice and direct it to the Other, you enter into this thing I call a prayer practice. It is difficult to say much about this; you begin to experience the “union” of mind, body, and spirit that is the essence of yoga. Patanjali, in the third chapter of the Yoga sutras talks about some aspects of this experience.
The habit of “setting your intention” at the beginning of asana practice opens a door to prayer practice. Going through that door involves a gathering of the self that is very much like an emo practice, but it is achieved by the release of one’s gathered energy. In the silent space that remains afterwards surprising things can happen. You bring your whole self into aalignment and connection with the Supreme Self, which is God, and it changes the world around you.
This document was translated from LATEX by HEVEA.