The Eight Limbs of Yoga: An 18-week mini-course
WEEK TWELVE: ASANA
Steadiness and ease in balance create the comfortable seat.
– SUTRA II.46
Gingerly stepping onto the soft, orange surface of my sticky mat, my breath releases with a sigh as I settle into the feeling of being at home in a familiar place. My attention flows from my breath through my body, sensing the earth beneath as I sink my weight into the corners of my feet while simultaneously lifting and spreading my toes. My knees soften and my legs push down as if searching for solid ground beneath a layer of warm oozing mud to connect with a sense of stability. Finding it, I draw that strength back up into my muscles with wavelike pulsations rippling into my hips. In the world of yoga we liken this feeling to the plant kingdom – rooting to rise. Planting our roots deep into terra firma awakens the upward growth from earth to sky.
As I adjust the position of my pelvis atop my thighs, my lumbar curve fluctuates until it too settles into a just right place. It is here at the base of my spine that I gather strength from a firm foundation, drawing it ever upward through my belly and backbone, hugging into the central axis of my body as it expands into its full height. My ribs begin to float lifting my heart with a deepening of breath. A lightness flows through my shoulders inspiring my arms to naturally ascend toward the heavens. Urdva Hastasana (upward hands) organically becomes my first asana (pose) of the day.
I tilt my face upward to open my throat and drink in yet another delicious breath of energy – prana – right there at the end of my nose. A release escapes from my windpipe as a gentle ha sound resonates through open mouth returning my arms to my side. My belly, spine, legs and feet again sink into the comfort of being fully awake and alive.
I follow this pattern of grounding and lifting, hugging and expanding through a variety of positions that both invigorate and loosen my joints, muscles, organs, and glands.
Care of the human frame and all it contains is a large part of our personal healthcare and is effectively enhanced through the practice of Hatha Yoga which is comprised of Asana (postures), Pranayama (breath expansion), and Pratyahara (drawing the senses inward) – the third, fourth, and fifth limbs of Yoga.
The Yamas and Niyamas lay the groundwork for right attitude and right action in how we live our life. Yoga Asana is an opportunity to practice right action within the intimate relationship of our own physical structure. Sthira Sukham Asanam (Sutra 2.46) translates as Steadiness and ease in balance create the comfortable seat. This is the primary teaching of Asana. Pronounced Ahhh-sana as in awesome, I believe that is truly how they are meant to feel.
To maintain steadiness (Sthira) in our body we need strength and strength takes effort. Therefore, Hatha Yoga is also known as the yoga of effort. How much effort? Just right effort, of course. To cultivate just right effort we embrace the sweetness of ease (Sukha) to relinquish unnecessary struggle or strain.
Asana is a mindful practice of maintaining balance within our own body as we attend to our individual abilities and limitations. Asana teaches us to let go of expectation, comparison and judgment while sinking into curiosity, truth and acceptance. I like to invite the students in my classes to view Yoga as “an individual practice in a group setting,” thus allowing our choices to be ultimately guided from the inside out.
Moving our spine in all directions, juicing our joints through range of motion, strengthening and stretching our muscles while massaging our organs and glands are all beneficial to our health and well being. To do so with conscious awareness will translate to a life that feels both grounded and expanded. Stepping off the sticky mat and into the world, our Yoga Asana practice is capable of creating an Awesome Life.