Principles of Asana

Principles of Asana (yogic posture) practice.

Yogic postures (Asana) are practiced to bring about harmony and health of the body, integration of the mind and subtle awareness that enables spiritual guidance to be revealed. This ease and health of the body enables a greater ability to sit in meditative practices without distraction of discomfort of the body and agitations of the mind. Asana practice helps to remove these obstacles to true realization and blissful states of being.

Patanjali teaches us that in the practice of postures we should be stable and comfortable (YS 2.46) and be accompanied by the relaxation of tension and the concentration on the serpent ananta (YS 2.47). The serpent ananta refers to the kundalini energy potential in the base of the spine. As consciousness rises to full awareness, the kundalini energy travels up through the central channel of the spine to create a blissful awareness state of the mind. So the practice of postures, to assist the purpose of yoga, must have the qualities of stability with minimal tension, an open and lifting quality of the spine with the mind focussed on the kundalini energy coiled at the base of the spine. This then will facilitate the rising of kundalini and which brings about blissful awareness.

Asana practiced with the following principles brings ease to the body and calmness to the mind so as to be comfortable and not distracted in meditative practice. To maintain these principles, poses and practices must be adapted to provide the most appropriate and optimal practice for any individual.

Sthira and sukha – steady and comfortable (stable structure, relaxation of the core of the body) relaxation of unnecessary tension

Lift through spine – supports the flow of energy through the body and depth of breath which increases oxygenation of the blood. Oxygen is the greatest life-giver and provides the spark of electric energy for all cellular processes.

Mental focus on base of spine (ananta) while maintaining spinal lift facilitates energy rising through the spine to the brain where this energy can generate a blissful awareness experience

Foundation – contact with earth – even and grounded

Integration of breath and breath awareness. Yogic breathing- in – belly chest, out – chest, belly. This optimises oxygen supply to the cells of the body. Breath awareness keeps us present. Subtle changes in the breath can give us insights into the condition of the state of the mind and manipulation of the breath (Pranayama) can alter mental states of being.

5 lines of force – from the core through fingers, feet, crown of head and beyond all of these points. This creates openness of the joints of the body, facilitates energy flow and supports the depth and freedom of breath.

Spiralling – creates openness and support of the joints, length and tone through the muscles, facilitates circulation of blood, lymph and energy throughout the body. Spirallic action can be found everywhere in the body but is most obvious in the limbs, where the lower (distal) limbs are internally rotated and the upper (proximal) limbs are rotated externally. This creates openness through the hips and chest and supports the action of the five lines of force, expanding and radiating out from the core of the body.

• Drishti – focus of the eyes. Visual focus equals mental focus. Especially in balance poses.

Alignment – This is balance of strength, flexibility and mobility of all the physical structures of the body which creates harmonious structure and ultimately fosters ease in the body. If ideal alignment is not immediately available, intention in the posture should be working towards that position. With this intention, the body understands what is trying to be done and will respond over time more quickly.

Form versus function – don’t sacrifice function to achieve a perceived ‘ideal’ form. This will be obvious in balance poses that result in collapse or difficult poses that shut down and restrict the breath. Maintain principles of breath awareness, lifting through the spine and sthira and sukha as priorities.

Vinyasa krama – appropriate flow from posture to posture. This ensures the practices are linked together to support the development of harmony in the body and mind.

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