“Stillness is dynamic. It is unconflicted movement, life in harmony with itself, skill in action.”
Stillness is not a concept often discussed as a form of physical exercise. Many Americans coming to yoga for a “good workout” assume that they will feel more at home in a fast-paced vinyasa class than a traditional hatha or yin yoga practice, which involve longer periods of stillness. However, exercise physiologists are much more appreciative of exercises done in stillness than we might realize! Isometric exercise is performed when muscles contract but do not move. These exercises are the crux of a hatha yoga practice.
When a muscle contracts, a lot of things happen simultaneously. Nerves trigger electrical impulses that tell our bodies it is time to take action! Proteins lengthen and shorten in response to the demands being placed on them. The process is the same regardless of whether visible movement is created. We may not look like we are doing anything more than sitting or standing there, but we certainly feel like we are working!
As tadasana is the foundational pose for yoga’s standing asanas, dandasana is the foundational pose for the seated ones. We begin by sitting on the floor with our legs in front of us. Rather than just straightening our legs and placing them side by side, our legs are extending. They are doing something. We are active, not passive.
Not only are we sending energy through our legs, but we are simultaneously sending energy upwards through the top of our head! Even our arms are straight, not resting limply at our side. It is not uncommon for us to discover that as we are doing so much work extending, we have actually become tense in our joints, particularly our knees and shoulders. Our work here is to soften where we can soften and release unnecessary tension. The question is can we be active without rigidity? Can we be an alert presence?
“Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah.”
“The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.” ~Yoga Sutras 1:2
Consciousness is when we are aware that we are present. Many times we find ourselves completely unconscious. Our body may be sitting at our desk or our dinner table, but our mind is worrying about the future or ruminating over the past. Like our muscles, our minds are highly efficient in moments of stillness. Our minds are more adaptive and creative when they are still because they are able to meet life’s demands as they happen. Also like our muscles, this is something that we may not be accustomed to, and therefore, we need to practice.
The next time you are practicing dandasana, really become aware of your body in the posture. Feel the ground beneath you and the way your body is placed on your yoga mat. Notice if you can connect with the energetic quality of the danda, the staff yogis used to support their hand as they did japa (repeating mantra as a meditation on prayer beads called a mala). Let practicing the yoga posture be a meditation in and of itself.