Labor & Yoga

With Labor Day approaching, I’m sure many of you have been pondering how yoga practice relates – or does not relate – to labor. Ok, so maybe it’s just me with those thoughts, but they come to mind this year for a very specific purpose. I’m looking forward to teaching a yoga class on Labor Day, and I thought it might be interesting to explore how, or if, yoga could be considered labor. Besides meaning the process of childbirth, two other definitions given for the word “labor” are:

labor (noun): work, especially hard physical work.

labor (verb): work hard; make great effort.

The oft-quoted Yoga sutra directly referring to yoga postures is “sthira sukham asanam.”  While there are varying translations, it is widely accepted that this sutra can generally be translated as “the posture is steady/stable and easy/comfortable.” Now, if you pick up any modern yoga book with pictures of yoga poses (asanas), you will most likely find some that hardly appear comfortable! Yet, as the posture is photographed, I would bet most people would say that in its picture form, the pose looks steady. Having done yoga posture photos myself, I know that often the “stable” aspect of the pose must be caught by a fast-acting photographer because pictures of someone falling out of a yoga pose are not as desirable. Are those photographed poses asana or acrobatics?   

Which brings me to the other questions I have been pondering: how much labor should be involved in yoga? Does the yoga sutra guideline about asana disqualify complicated, contorted postures as yogic? What about challenging practices that require great effort and are definitely not considered easy?

I’m not promising to answer these questions in my Labor Day practice I have planned, but I am looking forward to exploring the work and physicality that is often required in yoga classes, while appreciating the balance necessary to make the poses (seem?) effortless.

I hope you can join me!