Focusing on the Details
Today, I wanted to share my thoughts about detail within our practice. You see, I have noticed that the amount of emphasis placed on anatomical detail in asanas varies greatly amongst Ashtanga yoga teachers.
Personally, as a student, I am very detail-oriented. I want to know exactly where my foot, or my hand, or my hips should be placed. I want to know to what degree I should be contracting my muscles, and exactly in which direction I should apply effort. When it comes to the details, I seem to have an insatiable desire to learn. Thus, I am drawn to teachers who can provide me with as much detail as possible.
But many teachers seem not to place so much importance on minutia. Though I’ve not yet been to Mysore, I’ve even heard that the instruction at KPJAYI—the epicenter of Ashtanga yoga—is not so much focused on getting every little detail right. So for myself, I wonder, is it really a good thing that I am very focused on detail?
While searching online for the thoughts of other, more experienced Ashtangis on the subject, I came across an article that featured many quotes from Lino Miele, a long-time, devoted student of Pattabhi Jois and a certified teacher. In it, Lino is quoted as saying:
If we emphasize too much the technique, it’s not good. If we focus too much on the breath, we lose our mind. How to make it easy? Don’t be attached. When there is no attachment, there is happiness, and you give energy to yourself and to others.
My takeaway from these wise words is that paying attention to detail—like pretty much everything else in life—is fine when done in moderation. But if I focus TOO MUCH on getting things just right, it means I have become attached to an ideal, and I am heading in the wrong direction.
Ok good. I can do that. Not focus TOO much on the details.
I also think that there will come a point in my practice where I won’t NEED to think about the details as much; they will just become ingrained. At that point, it will become easier to simply link my movement and breath, and the meditative benefits will grow. There’s no way to take a shortcut to this destination, though. Many of us come to the practice with physical injuries and imbalances; it makes sense to me that those must be dealt with first. Indeed—the Primary series, yoga chikitsa, is meant as a therapy to restore health and balance in the body. I think for most of us, attention to detail is needed to accomplish this healing when we first come to practice.
It’s exciting to think about how my body will change, and how the fine details of practice will become second nature one day—at least for the Primary series, I hope ;) Though we can spend a lifetime getting to know each asana, I am looking forward to knowing many of mine in such a deep way that I won’t feel a need to focus as much on the details.