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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.