In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Asana (the physical postures of Yoga) is defined as "being seated in a postion,
that is firm, but relaxed." There isn't much else mentioned about asanas in the Yoga Sutras aside from that. I often apply this concept to in my classes as a way to mirror our day to day lives through our physical practice (more about that in a moment, but first...). As we come into a yoga posture, we are engaging in something much more than calisthenics. If that were the case, Yoga would be no different than any other form of fitness movement, but Yoga is different, as I'm sure the reader has felt in their practice at some point along the way.
In an asana we create a structure and a support system of skeletal alignment and muscular action. You could think of this as 'firm' part of Patanjali's cue. However, once we have made the shape and the structure, we turn inward and allow the physical to soften while maintaining. The more we are able to soften while being engaged, the more the breath is able to take center stage. As this begins to happen the body is able to relax even more, all the while within the boundaries of the chosen pose. This is asana! To be in two seemingly different worlds; action, engagement, firmness while at the same time experiencing a softening, surrender and ease. When we practice in this way we begin to EMBODY the definition of Yoga, meaning "to yoke or bring together two seemingly opposite faculties or things".
That's great Swami All-a-Sounds-a-Good-ananda, but how is knowing and practicing this meaningful in my daily Life?
I liken asanas(postures) to people or situations in my classes. There are easy folks and situations to be with like say, Shavasana or Balasana, and there are more challenging folks or situations to be around like Bakasana or Virabhadrasana 3. In either one of these example postures though what we bring to the table is the same: awareness, engagement and firmness, a softening of unneeded tension and a fullness of breath taken one at a time. When we meet a posture like this we create space, learn to rely on the entire body over just one part and we
tap into sense of presence and stillness makes the simple postures blissful and the challenging postures more accessible and even joyful over time.
Isn't it the same with people and with Life? When we experience difficult conversations or situations we bring the same things: awareness, engagement and the firmness of our boundaries, a softening and a humbling of our words and actions, as well as a fullness of breath before we react to speak or take action. When we do that we are cultivating compassion for the other and also towards ourselves. Much in the same way we do for our bodies in practice. We make space so that we are moving and acting from a place from within rather than being motivated by the difficulty or obstacle without. Our words have more weight when spoken from this place, just as we become more grounded within a pose. And all of this because we chose rather than to react , to instead 'rest' within the 'asana' we have chosen, be it a pose, career, relationship, etc... Finding stillness in action, and rest within engagement.
Fluid Earth Practice:
Pick a few postures that you enjoy some that are challenging for you and some that are more effortless. Take a moment within each of these postures you're exploring and apply these two qualities to each asana. Find the structure and engagement of the pose and sit in that for a moment. For the challenging postures, engage. For the more easeful postures, soften. After a few, breaths for each pose, continue applying the first quality but balance it by applying its seeming opposite. For the challenging postures, soften your body as you would in shavasana while still maintaining the shape. For the more easeful postures, maintain your relaxed state while gently applying engagement (example: moving from relaxed child pose into extended child's pose). Take your time, possibly holding a minute within each pose to really have time to experiment and explore. Afterwards, take a moment to rest in shavasana and notice how your body and mind have responded to practicing in that way.
Hope you enjoy this short practice!
See you on the mat!