How I conceive the practice of physical postures in yoga

Asana, translated as easy pose, is the third aspect listed in Patanjali’s Yoga sutras. This refers to the posture in which one is to be in to begin the practice of breath work and the various mental techniques. To practice the other aspects dealing with the mind, normally a seated position is taken. However, it was discovered quite some time ago, that other body positions were vital to the physiological and anatomical functioning of the yoga practitioner. The Hatha Yoga Pradapika outlines 84 such postures. Since then, thousands of postures have been developed, with the inclusion of European calisthenics, Indian gymnastics, Chines elements like Tai Chi and even contemporary dance. 

My own study of asana and the physical practice has led me to formalize my thinking and teaching into two perspectives for the beginner: three aspects of the posture; and three aspects of core.

The three aspects of the posture refer to alignment, grace and depth. Alignment is the anatomical positioning of a body in the posture. Grace is how one enters into and exists from a posture, as well as, how one behaves while within the posture. Depth refers to both the physical stretching and mobility of the body, and well as the psychological comprehension of the posture including both the vijnana (inner knowledge) and energetic activation. My teaching style is based on discreet alignment cues, reminders of adding in the touch of grace, and then, if the body (and mind) is willing, to exhale into the depths. 

The three aspect of core refer to anatomical conditioning, cardio-vascular breath work, and mental focus. I use the term anatomical conditioning rather than just stating abdominal core exercises because many yoga postures require more than just the abdominals; they also require connection to the quads, the shoulder girdle, forearms, etc. The whole of the body must be conditioned. In regards to breath being foundational, I like to remind people that you can go weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without air. Breath is so fundamental, it occurs without thinking. Even in our sleep. The unique factor about breath, is that we can control it with our awareness. Therefore, we can use breath, as we use anatomy, to effect physiological and energetic changes in the body. Mental focus begins with developing a sense of the witness-observer. Stepping back from being lost in the moment to being present and aware via the sensory apparati. Through the articulation of pointed concentration one begins to deepen their understanding.

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