Dear (aspiring) Yogi,
I think one of the questions that comes up most often among those who are just starting out with yoga or even those who have done it for a while is “How do I become more flexible?” Maybe there was a point when you were asking that question yourself? Maybe you are asking it right now. Maybe you are wondering if you are ever going to be able to sit in a cross legged posture without it to start paining so badly after only 5 minutes that you have to come out of it. Or maybe you would like to be able to bend your body down and touch the floor without needing to bend your knees.
You might wonder if there is any way of “undoing” the many years of spending a major part of your days at your desk in a posture which probably isn’t quite supportive to your body’s posture and overall flexibility.
I remember when I was starting out with yoga and meditation around 6 years ago. I spent a week in a yoga retreat in the US and was speaking to a resident at the yoga center there. I was telling him how badly I wanted to be able to sit comfortably in a meditation posture without my legs paining so badly. At that time my flexibility was a joke. My posture was so bad and I just couldn’t bring my knees down flat on the floor. And I didn’t think that it would ever be possible for me to do so!
So this resident, his name was John, was telling me that he was facing the exact same issues when he was starting out and he was telling me all the struggles he went through. But then he had the chance to spend a few weeks in an Ashram in India (the Isha Yoga Center that you might know by now) and he told me that they taught him a certain set of Yoga practices there that are specifically geared towards “Mastery of the Limbs”. I remember that these practices at that time were not officially taught to any of the visitors but only to the local monks and residents.
When I moved to that Ashram in South India around six months later, one of the first things I was doing was to try to find out where I could learn those practices to finally master my limbs. They told me that it is not taught right now and that I need to wait for some time. I was disappointed. So big was my longing to gain more control over my body and here I was sitting in the middle of an Ashram, not being able to learn it. Anyway, I tried to be patient. A few weeks passed, a few months. Then one day one of the monks informed me that they are teaching the practice to a group of newly arrived residents and I could participate. You can imagine, that I was super excited and couldn’t wait to jump in it! The training was spread over 5 days with one session each morning. It was painful and exhausting. I felt muscles that I didn’t know existed in my body and that I certainly didn’t use or stretch in any way for a very long time.
The pain for the next couple of days after the training was even worse. I mean ok, it pained, but actually it kind of felt good in a way. Because I knew that these muscles were the reason why I couldn’t sit properly and now I was working on them. So I kept practicing this daily. And after about 3-4 months of practising I couldn’t believe it, but I was finally able to sit with my knees flat on the floor comfortably in a cross legged posture. Just to be able to sit like that was such a huge accomplishment for me, something which seemed so far out of reach. And it made such a big change. Because it meant that now I could sit for long durations in meditation without any pain.
Back in 2011 when I moved to the Ashram and learned this practice it was only offered to small groups of people. Today it is available to everyone. It is part of the set of Yoga practices that together make up Isha Hatha Yoga. The name of this practice is Angamardana. Angamardana literally means “Mastery of the Limbs”. Not only does it allow you to finally gain control over your limbs, but the best thing is that this is a practice you can do wherever you are. You don’t need a gym or any fancy equipment. Just yourself and a 2 by 2 sqm empty space. This ancient yogic fitness session is is the purest form of a whole body workout you can get.
Sadhguru says: “Anga means limbs or parts of body, mardana means to annihilate or gain control over. If somebody is your hardcore enemy, you have complete control over him only when you manage to have him dead. So, this is about killing the limbs. ‘Why would I want to kill my limbs?’ This needs to be understood – killing does not mean putting it to death; killing means complete mastery over that.”