From the Periphery to the Core
In my last post, I spoke of the Yamas and the Niyamas, the first two limbs of yoga and asked you to think about how these affect you on the mat. Here, we are discussing the third limb, Asana. In Sanskrit, Asana means pose or posture. And we are on the mat. Asanas take various shapes; standing postures, forward extensions, back bendings and inversions. This variety of postures affects every aspect of the body; flexibility, circulation, digestion, immunity, alignment, while building endurance and strengthening muscles and bones, bringing the body to awareness and ultimately health. When the body is not well, the mind is drawn to the problem areas. Concentration is not available and the body controls the mind. In a healthy body, the mind controls the body. A friend said to me recently, “when yoga ceases to become exercise, it transforms the individual”. This doesn’t happen quickly. It is a process that is achieved through perseverance and hard work. We, over time, find the balance between strength and ease. This is achieved through a regular practice. You don’t need to do a thousand different asanas, you don’t need to do complicated asanas. A regular practice will strengthen the mind/body connections, creating balance, flexibility and strength in our personal lives as well as our asanas. Which brings us to the connection of the first two limbs with the mat. Ahimsa - non violence. You shouldn’t, couldn’t, and hopefully wouldn’t leap into a full backbend from the floor for your first yoga practice. That would be a violence towards your body. A student of mine, who developed MS late in life, was told by Guruji that he needs to have courage, peppered with caution. Courage, tempered with caution will get you where you want to go……in the fullness of time. Remember, it’s not about the destination as much as the journey. Satya - truth. Truth is a delicate balance. As a senior, I can’t do what my much younger colleagues can do. This is a truth I have to face whenever I am doing a class with variety of students. Do I cop out and not do it? No, I have to reach for my props (tools) and knowledge that allows me to take the shape of the pose. For example, one class, we were doing drop backs from headstand. This is no longer available to me, so I took my pose to the wall and did a drop back from head stand to the back of the chair, working my feet to the seat of the chair. This is my truth. I had courage and caution. Asteya - non stealing. How do you steal in a yoga class? What’s there to steal? In a large class, you will see some students rush to the prop section when told to get a chair and only attend to their own needs, pushing others aside. Or the student that asks the teacher a lot of questions during the class, drawing your attention away from what you are doing and taking the teacher’s attention away from the student body. Or the student who is not present and needs constant reminders of how to set up, slowing the class down. Bramacharya - self restraint. Because the literal definition is celibacy, many people don’t think it applies to the mat. But if we think of it as “the right use of energy”, it allows you to practice this concept both on and off the mat. Imagine regularly overextending yourself in your tasks. You would be exhausted. Equally, over-extending yourself on the mat doesn’t allow you to direct your energy inward, or find courage with caution. Your goal is to move away from external desires that draw you away from reflection. Aparigraha - non coveting. This is similar to non-stealing. If you covet someone else’s practice, Your consciousness is drawn away from your own being and prevents you from progressing or enjoying what you are achieving. The goal is to detach from what you covet. Saucha - cleanliness. This would be cleanliness of mind and body. I always practice after I have bathed. Not eating before a practice allows one to be at ease in the asana. Approach your practice with enthusiasm and positive thoughts. Santosha - contentment. It’s about finding that balance - being content with your practice at your age and ability but knowing you still have to move forward and improve ones self. Tapas - ardour or austerity. This is a contradiction right here. Ardour refers to passion and austerity is restrictions or self discipline. How do you apply both to the mat? It is in the balance of both. Approach your practice with ardour, but if something hurts, be mindful of what is happening and how to address that. Don’t come out of an Asana aggressively, take time to breath in the pose. If you focus your breath on the painful area, and it releases, you have practiced self-discipline and ardour. Svadhytaya - study of self. Observe yourself. Reflect on what is happening as you move in different ways. Does the heel penetrate the floor? What happens when it does? Do you quit when it gets difficult? Do you find ways to persevere and move forward in a safe way? Do you exhibit these qualities off the mat? Isvara Pranidhana - dedication to the lord. Think of this as surrendering. In Light on Pranaya
ma, Guruji devotes 22 pages to Savasana, one of the most difficult asanas. How do you still the mind? The journey of yoga is to take you from the Periphery (body) to the Core (soul or self). It’s a beautiful, transformative journey.