On more then one occasion, I have been at a social gathering where, upon learning that I am a yoga teacher, someone says, "Oh, I do yoga. Have you ever heard of P90X?" An appropriate response always seems to elude me.
For anyone who has never been up late channel surfing and come across the infomercial, P90X is a series of home fitness DVD's. The system is based on what the creator calls "muscle confusion" and consists of a poly-circuit of varied daily exercise routines, one of which is "yoga." The advertisements boast a total body transformation. Apparently, the key to sculpting the body of your dreams is to mix it up and keep yourself guessing. The testimonials are quite convincing.
Having consulted some anatomy wonk friends, as I understand it, a muscle may lengthen, shorten or remain the same. Technically, it's impossible to "confuse" a muscle. I cannot speak to whether keeping the mind in flux is an effective way to sculpt the body. When it regards Yoga, nothing could be more counter-productive.
The yoga component of P90X does offer some introductory words about Yoga being more then just the physical but the actuality of what follows belies the sentiment. Unfortunately, plenty of yoga classes employ much the same philosophy and present the same disconnect between word and deed. Many classical assertions about yoga have similar characteristics.
The distinguishing factor between doing yoga positions for physical fitness or alternate purposes and utilizing yoga poses for health is the mentality that goes into the engagement of the forms. Monks engage intense physicality to challenge their minds' ability to transcend the difficulty and progress towards realization. The conventional yoga goer of today subjects themselves to the same sorts of treatment as a means to escape the stresses of life and have a more aesthetically pleasing body.
Whether trying to achieve enlightenment or abs, the mentality is largely the same. The line of argument most in favor of forever increasing challenge suggests that by taking the physicality "to the edge" and beyond, the mind becomes more concentrated and we will experience increased growth. One student said, "When we are doing the simple exercises, my mind is all over the place. I need something more challenging so I can focus."
If your mind is all over the place when you're doing a simple form then, fact is, that is what is happening. Your mind is all over the place. Increased physical challenge can successfully overwhelm the senses and obscure your minds' ruminations, as in the expression "get out of my head." This can be enjoyable, even beneficial; however, the "high" will eventually wear off and the underlying state of anxiety remains. The cycle of distraction/ relief will need to be repeated again and again, sometimes with unintended detriment.
One of the primary stated purposes of Yoga practice is to reduce the "fluctuations" of mind so that we can have clarity in our experience. Engaging the physical forms intends to bring ourselves present, not distract us from it.
Its understandable that being present when we are filled with anxiety is not initially enjoyable but in order to begin the process of easing what ails us, we first need to acknowledge that it exists. Like a cold that lasts for months instead of a few days because its been covered up by taking nasal decongestants, we have to let ourselves feel whatever it is before we can overcome it.
By embracing what is present, even when it is unfavorable, we are in a position to develop an alternate course. Otherwise, things are likely to continue as they are despite our best efforts. Until we can be with ourselves, doing nothing, and feel relatively at ease, the chances that we will ever feel at ease when we are doing things and being with other people are very slim.
The key to cultivating a Yoga practice that is not just another distraction is the context and mentality it encompasses. For the most part, everyone is doing the same forms. How and why we are doing them is making for drastically different experiences and results.