Learning in yoga practice happens in arcs, ups and downs, peaks and valleys, highs and lows, surges and recessions. Indeed there are nearly countless ‘mini’ or lesser arcs such as those that happen within a small unit of time a day, a week, a month, or a year. But you can also imagine that there might be one grand arc that marks the overall life span of your practice. This grand arc could be thought of as following a trajectory that is akin to the great, eternal cycle of Time according to Indian mythology that exists in Nature (Prakriti) and has 3 stages : 1) creation (Brahma) 2) preservation (Vishnu) 3) dissolution (Shiva).
Lets’ suppose, for example, in a ideal sense, that the creation stage of your practice might last for 10 to 20 years, it is characterized by laying a foundation, a slow build, a gathering of strength, flexibility, and mind power, a steady, day by day, climb upwards towards a mastery that is meant to serve you in coming to a spiritual maturity. Next comes a middle phase, lasting 10 to 20 or more years, where you sustain, maintain and refine the mastery that you achieved during the creation phase. And then finally the middle phase begins to give way to a phase of (hopefully) gradual dissolution that will last 10 to 20 years and eventually mark the end of your active years of practice. Dissolution means that your body goes through a gradual process of coming apart that is reflected in slowly diminishing strength, flexibility, and mental power. The creation and dissolution phases of practice share the fact that they are times of making use of different manifestations of ‘progressions’ or ‘helpers that give you more ready access to masterful asana expressions.’
For example, let’s take the posture Viparita Dandasana as an example of what I mean. Viparita Dandasana is a dynamic posture where you drop over into a backbend from a headstand and then jump back up to a headstand from a backbend. At first many of you will need to use pads to successfully jump from a backbend to back up to a headstand position. You may start out using four (or more) pads in order to complete the move, and then with time, experience and practice you may (or may not) slowly progress to 3, 2, 1 and finally your feet might eventually touch the ground.
As you go through this learning progression you aim to strike just the right balance of being content with where you are while at the same time aiming to extend the range of your perceived and actual limits. In the creation phase as you test your limits you go through a process of building and of gathering momentum to explore the unknown.Ideally you learn to safely and intelligently explore the possibilities that exist for you in doing your postures, and your practice provides you with a means of coming to a more far reaching mastery and self knowledge that penetrates your entire life.
With each asana puzzle, at some point you’ll reach a middle phase, a natural mental and physical stopping place, a predicament where outward, gross improvement or progress slows down and eventually comes to a permanent standstill. There may be times of ‘false’ permanent stopping places where you thought you had reached your furthest limits, but unexpected breakthroughs arrive to take you further than you imagined. During Vishnu’s stage of sustenance you learn not to rely on grosser, outer manifestations of progress. And instead you enjoy previously unknown subtlety and wisdom born of experience and mastery. You continue to extract learning and renewal from your practice through an invisible development within you. Transformation takes place within you and within the inner form of the asana. A new grace and soul accompanies these momentous internal changes that is reflected in how you express the outer form of your asanas. Your own signature style and maturity can emerge, as well as long moments of welcome solidity and contentedness.
But eventually the curve in the arc asserts itself signaling your entrance into Shiva’s domain, the final phase of decline. And during the dissolution phase you return by the same creative path that you came by, only now you work IN REVERSE. As part of working with your diminishing capacity for asana expression you must learn to taper, to go from no pads, to 1, 2, 3 etc. But you accept this state of affairs happily without undo interference from your ego, you accept your increasing limits with grace, in honest recognition of what naturally happens to you and all materiality. Part of the key in the dissolution phase is to walk the edge between continuing to push yourself and learning to be satisfied with your new, incrementally increasing limits—like learning to walk in reverse as though to do so were entirely right and natural.
But remember when you are skilled it doesn’t matter to you which phase of the great cycle you are in, or where along the progression your asana work happens to be. The beauty of it is you can find equal intelligence, integrity, and satisfaction in each step along the progression whether you are coming, going or staying for some time. In other words there is nothing inherently superior to jumping from the ground up as opposed to using pads to jump. What matters is the quality and attitude that you bring to process all along the way, and thus working with the progression you remain continually and equally open the great process of learning and to receiving the benefits of the asana. Whereas fail to honor the progression during any stage and you surely bring suffering and harm upon yourself—there is no call to buck against Yama, aka Maha Kala, Great Time, an undefeatable opponent.
Finding harmony in the cycle is a back door means of entering into ETERNITY, meaning there is always a right response available to you during to each phase that you go through– from birth to death. A right response is timeless-ie not dependent upon time or cyclical activity. Part of mastery of asana is to NOT to be dependent upon having a certain amount of youth, energy, strength, etc or other passing outer conditions. That is why to creatively embrace your particular station along the asana progression is EVERYTHING. Gaining a perspective of the Great Cycle of Time that plays out over the entire span of your life can serve you as a model for how to honor all the various lesser cycles that come and go with daily practice.