Category Archives: Asana

What we do in āsana is not normal or ordinary

definitions of āsana, Part 2

On Leave, Watercolor, Amanda Green

Ās śarīra aṅga vinyāsa

We see here another meaning of ās, meaning ‘seat’ or ‘comfortable seat.’

śarīra – body

aṅga – limb

vinyāsa – a special arrangement

My girls are closing in on the end of the first quarter of their school year and we all seem to have bumped up against the same wall this week.  Hazel announced that she hates school (or at least all the school work). Nora expressed her wall-hitting with a seriously grouchy and argumentative attitude. Dave admitted to feeling a little blue. And when I woke up on Monday morning, I thought, “Here we go again…” I caught myself feeling like Monday was something I had to hold my nose to swallow and that this Monday would be stamped out just like all the Mondays before. I was not excited.  

I practiced yoga that morning, and I’m glad I did because something changed. It didn’t happen instantly, but over time, as I breathed and moved in a special way, I began to feel present. Āsana practice reminded me of something really important – this day, which happens to be a Monday, is the moment I’m alive. In āsana, we connect with what is happening – I’m breathing… I have a body that moves and feelsI can only feel this now So much is happening… So much is possible. Yoga is a practice that helps make the wonder of the moment available again. It helps me remember how I would like to show up for my life. If normal and ordinary feel like going through the motions or ‘getting through the day,’ then practicing āsana in a way that is not ordinary helps me reconnect to what is special about being alive. This kind of practice is vital to having a meaningful life.

This definition of āsana tells us that practice looks different from what is regular and ordinary in other ways, too. If we work at a desk job that is highly analytical, āsana practice might focus on standing postures and have a focus that is more relaxing for the mind.  If we cut hair for a living, standing much of the day, talking to clients, and squeezing and working the hands and wrists, then a quiet practice, reclined postures, and gentle hand and wrist movements in the opposite direction could provide a break from the ordinary. Live alone? You may enjoy attending a regular group class where you get to enjoy the company and companionship of others.  Climb mountains? Drive a bus? Care for small children? Surf? Swim? Work as a cook? Clean houses? There’s a regular or ordinary set of movements that goes along with each of these activities and we look for what is not ordinary when designing an āsana practice.

There’s more to āsana practice than the primary orientation of the postures. For many of us practice is not normal because it’s one of the few times we turn our attention away from what is happening outside of us and direct the attention to something more quiet and subtle within.  Attention to the breath, to the quiet communications of the body and our emotional experience can be a special aspect of āsana practice and a special way of being.

Practice isn’t ordinary. It is special.

Āsana is about being and becoming

Definitions of āsana, Part 1

Almost Three, Watercolor, Amanda Green

The root of the word āsana comes from the sanskrit root, ās. This can mean, “being or becoming.”  If āsana is rooted in being and becoming, what does that tell us about what we are practicing? How does this context and this definition give us guidance for our practice? This is a big topic to kick off our series, but this idea is the container in which all of our other definitions exist, so it is a good place to begin.

When I think about ‘being,’ it feels simple. An apple can be an apple, but it can’t be an orange. Even those weird apples that were at our grocery store a few years ago that had been injected with an artificial grape flavor were still apples. A rotten apple? Still being apple. Apple juice? Still being apple. Being is basic and essential.  The things that were true about my being when I was an infant are true about me now. No matter how we dress it up, how it ails, ages, or changes, we are being until the end.  

Becoming is happening at every moment. What we do and the experiences we have inform our next ones. If we are doing the same things over and over again, then we are becoming the person who acts and reacts in the same way we always have.  If, instead, we have different experiences, then we are becoming a ‘different person’. We can react and respond to things in a fresh way.  This is one of the most hopeful ideas in all of yoga.  Becoming is continually happening. That means we can help to create who we are becoming by choosing and participating in experiences that generate the kinds of feelings we want more of.

Āsana is one of the experiences where we can practice being who and how we want to be. Do we want to be more accepting of our struggles? We can practice acceptance in āsana.  Do we want to have more peace and calm? We can practice āsana in a peaceful and calm way. When our teacher recognizes a pattern of tension, straining, or distraction is present in our practice, they might help us to see that and encourage a better way of practicing.

Daily āsana practice is an experience that can shape the moments that follow, and repeated regularly, it has the potential to shape the way we live out life. With breath and movement (and sometimes sound and intention) as our tools, āsana invites us to become increasingly present and conscious.  This definition reminds us that āsana is doing something to us, and it invites us to experience something of our essential nature. You and I are invited to become who we are.

What makes yoga postures so darn special?

Relaxing, watercolor, Amanda Green

Introduction: Is yoga the same as stretching?

For a long time, my yoga practice was about mastering certain postures.  I worked really hard to stick a handstand.  I went to vinyasa class and wanted so badly to be able to defy gravity and float my feet from downdog to that forward bend at the front of the mat.  Fancy arm balances? Yes, please.  Bend further? No problem. Big, dancer-like transitions between postures that took me high and then low? Bring it. I worked out. I got better at all of these things and even had moments of of feeling that particular kind of strength, balance and presence in my body that I was seeking. I also got increasingly more sensitive, an enduring shoulder injury, way too much flexibility in important joints, and the realization that this kind of practice was not sustainable.

Was I doing yoga? Does the ability to hold a handstand for 30 seconds make someone good at yoga? If I look at a yoga postures in a magazine and try to do the stuff I see, does that count? How we answer these questions depends on how we define yoga practice and what we think āsana (aaah-sun-uh, the practice of postures) is for. In the next few posts, we’ll look at several definitions of āsana, considerations for structuring a practice, and a few of Patañjali’s yoga sūtras that will give us a sense of what postural practice is all about and what we can look forward to when practice is well established.  

Seventeen years after my first yoga class, how I practce āsana is really different from those early years. With the guidance of my teacher and support of peers, my yoga practice is now slow, safe, and satisfying to me in very deep and essential ways. I practice at home, in the quiet. Breath is way more interesting that balancing on my hands. In times when I’ve been injured or in pain, I have ways to stay connected to my practice. And most interestingly, my mind operates much more attentively and peacefully.  I can imagine doing yoga like this for the rest of my life.

Here’s the sneak peak for the series…

Part 1: Āsana is about being and becoming

Part 2: What we do in āsana is not normal or ordinary

Part 3: For Āsana to help us operate in a new way, we have to be willing to have new experiences

Part 4: Āsana reaches all parts of our being

Part 5: Vinyāsa krāma: start where you are and take the necessary steps to reach your goal

Part 6: Prevent future suffering (Yoga Sūtra II.16)

Part 7: Āsana should be stable and comfortable (Yoga Sūtra II.46)

Part 8: Āsana helps us loosen the knots and reduce resistance (Yoga Sūtra II.47)

Part 9: The result of āsana practice: we will not be affected by extremes (Yoga Sūtra II.48)