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Take appropriate and intelligent steps toward your goal

Grandmother, Watercolor by Amanda Green

Definitions of āsana Part 5: Vinyāsa krāma Start where you are and take appropriate and intelligent steps to reach your goal

Vinyāsa krāma is one of the most valuable ideas that I’ve received from yoga. It has taught me how to think, how to make change, how to move from where I am to a place that I want to be. It applies to just about every aim I have set my sights on. I so appreciate times when my teachers have helped and guided me through these appropriate and intelligent steps.  The experiences have been so powerful, but it’s so hard to write about. Like all of the entries in this series, I keep getting caught up. The experience of vinyāsa krama is so much more than can be expressed in a few paragraphs. Like all of yoga, the experience is what really matters and the ideas serve best when they are a description of something you already know in your bones. So here we go again with something imperfect but sincere.

Let’s reflect for a moment… if you want to go from where you are to somewhere different, it’s really helpful to know where you want to go. Once you have an idea of where you want to go, it’s also important to know what your starting place is. With this information, it becomes possible to map out the appropriate and intelligent steps to move you in the right direction. Nothing is skipped and there aren’t extreneous things thrown in along the way. This is vinyāsa krāma.

Vi – special nyāsa– placement krāma – steps

This approach seems obvious when you think about going to the store to buy something you need. You know where you are. You know how much time you have. You think about where the store is and the roads that will get you there. Then you make the effort to transport yourself to the store. You don’t make extra stops because you are aiming for an efficient errand-running outing. You head to the store, get what you need, and you accomplish your goal.

This may also be a familiar process if your yoga practice applies principles of vinyāsa krāma (not all do).  Say you go to a yoga class, and the teacher has chosen an āsana goal for you to experience. Your teacher guides you through experiences that warm your body, expand your breath, direct your mind and help prepare you for the posture. Throughout class, you work toward this goal in a focused and directed way and then ta-da! you move into the posture with comfort and get to be with that new experience. Vinyāsa krāma, when skillfully applied, invites the system to unfold, open, and move with stability and ease toward a new experience.

These principles, like all of the things we practice in āsana, apply to life, too. Do you want to learn to play the piano? Build a deck in your back yard? Develop a consistent daily yoga practice? Improve your communication patterns with a loved one? Here are three considerations when applying vinyāsa krāma in your life.  

  1.  Reflect on the aim or goal. Envision it. Imagine it. It’s good practice to consider your motivations, too. Are they coming from the right place?
  2. Understand your starting place. Where are you now? It’s easy to get caught up in evaluating where we are as good/bad, productive/deficient, likable/unlikable. But that’s not the point.  When you make an aim to move toward your goal, it is so helpful to know what skills you have and which ones you need to develop.  What needs strengthening? Are there things that you do that get in the way of moving toward your goal. Look at yourself with generous honesty and aim for a fair assessment of you in this moment. This will help you to create the intelligent and appropriate steps.
  3. Develop a roadmap to help you get there. When you apply vinyāsa krāma to an aim or goal, you are choosing to have experiences that will help you move toward your goal. These experiences are steps and you take one and then the next, not skipping anything important, and not adding in anything superfluous.  If you are building a deck, you develop a plan before cutting the wood. If you are learning to play the piano, a teacher gives you a simple song before something complex. In this way, we gain experience gradually, progressively, intelligently and appropriately as we move toward our goal.

The thing that I most appreciate about this definition of āsana and the experience of vinyāsa krāma is how respectful it is of my human nature. When I think about it, I sigh and relax a little bit. I drop some of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘have to’s’. I’m not expected or required to be anywhere other than where I am right now. After all, where, who and how I am in this moment is the only way I can begin anything. My path is individual. There isn’t a predetermined route to reach a goal, there is a special route that is appropriate to me and the steps I take along that route are personal. The needed steps depend on how I am functioning, what I need, and what will be helpful in my journey. The times that I’m guided by my teachers who are so steeped in these principles, I’m touched by how the thoughtful, how kind, and how good it feels to move through a process towards something I hadn’t been able to do or experience in quite that way before.  It’s like magic. Without pushing or forcing, something opens and unlocks and something becomes possible.

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

Definitions of āsana, Part 3: Nava śarīra saṁskāra

Yoga is full of paradox.  In my teaching lately, I’ve found myself saying one thing about yoga and at the very moment that it is coming out of my mouth, what feels like it’s opposite is ringing in my head, ‘Not so fast, little lady…’

Teaching and practicing yoga require a contemplative mind (‘yes, and’) and humility (there are so many ways to see truth and to know something). Writing about these definitions of āsana continues to fall short of how amazing and transformational the experience can be.  I guess that’s because āsana isn’t something that you can get to the bottom of by reading blogs. It’s an experience that you fully participate in with your entire being.  Only when you’ve spent time doing āsana does reading and writing about it have purpose.  Experience it again and again over time and then these definitions and theory mean something.

I’m pretty sure that if you’re on this blog about yoga, it’s not all theory for you.  You do it. You know what it has done to you. And the teachings and context provides a description and language for something you already know and feel. That’s why I write about it. Writing brings my interior world to the surface. The attempts to express what goes on down there is an opportunity for retasting. It helps make what’s subtle a little more tangible. So here we go. Definition number three.

Like yoga, life is full of paradoxes. One of those centers around our habits and patterns. We need patterns to communicate, to do our jobs, to feel connected to the people in our lives, and to navigate a challenging and vibrant world.  And yet, our patterns can become so impenetrable that we get stuck repeating them over-and-over, even when they get in the way of what we most need or desire. Our communication patterns can leave us having the same argument with a partner year after year. The way our shoulders scrunch up when we’re under stress happens out of deep patterning and we may not be aware of it till we’re having that migraine again.  When our patterns are limiting us or even determining our behavior, then āsana and the process of developing a nava śarīra saṁskāra, or “new body pattern” can help.

This third definition of āsana, nava śarīra saṁskāra, invites us to work with body patterns that we hold, repeat, and carry with us all the time. It’s funny because the pañca maya model (more on this next post) describes 5 interconnected layers of our human system from the most gross to the most subtle. These layers are: body, prāṇa/breath, mind, personality, and emotions.  Body is the first one on the list, suggesting that it is the most gross. We often begin our yoga work with āsana and the body because we can move it and see it move.  Yes this is true that the body is accessible, and some of our body patterns are incredibly subtle. We humans develop our personal postural patterns really early. That postural pattern makes it possible to recognize your friend from behind on a crowded street from 200 feet away even if you haven’t seen them in years. We don’t think about walking. We just walk.  We don’t try to tighten or clench when we get scared. But we do. So, working with body patterns is accessible and also very deep work.

In order for āsana to help us operate in a new way, we have to be willing to have new experiences. If we’re set on continuing along the same old lines, then we are going to approach āsana in the same way we do (and have done) everything else. This willingness is the key to letting something new come in. And learning how to welcome new experiences can enrich our approach to āsana practice.

I’ve put together a list below of tips that can help you open to new experiences and get the most out of your āsana practice. You might get a feel from reading the list that inspires or maybe one thing jumps out as something you’d like to try on for a while. Nava śarīra saṁskāra, here we come.

10 Keys for developing new body patterns. Nava śarīra saṁskāra !

  • Invite change! (the old pattern was getting in the way, remember?)
  • Be willing to do things in a new way
  • Have a beginner’s mind. Set aside what you think you know and listen again for the first time.
  • Feel the sensations in your body as they arise
  • Stay curious and open
  • Have patience. New patterns take time to develop.
  • Suspend judgment. You can’t be good or bad at something when it’s a new experience
  • Defer decisions about liking or not liking the activity. (Most of us like the feeling of not being amazing at something. And when we are doing something new, we’re not going to be amazing.)
  • If what you’re doing feels awkward and uncomfortable, you are really doing it! You are exploring something new!
  • And the #1 most helpful and important key to developing a new body pattern…become someone’s student! You need a teacher who is a keen observer, an honest guide, and who has done the work deeply and sincerely her/him/themself. Without a teacher, our patterns are very hard to see and even harder to change.