Monday, September 12, 2011

Yogasanas : An Inward Transition

Moving inwards is the ultimate aim of a yoga student and, initially, many decide they are not quite ready for this : they need to wait until they are more qualified or more relaxed or ready to begin the pranayama (breathing techniques) or meditation before they move inwards. The beginning stages of the practice, especially the asanas (postures), seem so outwardly oriented, apparently focussing on the body, that many people dismiss them or overdo them for this reason.

There is an essential need to strengthen and tone the body even for those interested only in the mind. Meditation requires a stillness that cannot be achieved until the body can be quietened - those muscular spasms, nervous jerks and the drooping of the spine will hinder a long, uninterrupted session of meditation. On the other hand, those interested in relaxing the body first may spend long hours lying down in a particular position, trying to accomplish this, while their minds are churning away, wasting large amounts of energy. Asanas are an unusual technique, dynamic by nature, but providing tremendous opportunity to work internally at subtle levels.

Initially, of course, one struggles just to attain a particular posture and be comfortable in it. One should keep in mind that one is only attempting the asana at this stage (footnote 1). Mastering an asana takes time and works at different levels - the joints, nerves and muscles (which make themselves painfully felt!), the breathing, the mind, the energy flow and eventually the spirit (these also make themselves felt but in a different way) (footnote 2). The transition from an outer movement to an inner one comes when one begins to focus on inner aspects - initially the bandhas (internal muscular locks), the breath which changes as different parts are extended or squeezed and finally the mind, which must be completely free of thoughts. This is attempted by closing the eyes after attaining stability in each pose and looking not on the specific point that each pose demands, but within, to the heart instead. There is an immediate withdrawal of energy from the mind and external senses and an inward channelizing which brings a deeper level of relaxation than the physical movements themselves. You feel a sense of calm and well-being and begin to focus on messages from the heart and the breath; stray and unwanted thoughts are easily dispelled, rigid mental patterns broken (footnote 3).

This paves the way for breathing and meditation techniques which require one to focus on internal aspects while the body is kept still. Each method brings its own satisfaction but the exhilaration of gradually allowing the body to realize its potential, while remaining oblivious to the outer world (as much as possible!) is unique.

Footnotes from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:
1) "Sthirasukhamasanam" (Yoga sutra 2.46) - Asana is stability of the body, steadiness of the mind and a state of ease of the spirit.

2) "Prayatna saithilya ananta samapattibhyam" (Yoga sutra 2.47) - Perfection in an asana is attained when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached.

3) "Tatah dvandvah anabhighatah" (Yoga sutra 2.48) - From then on, the practitioner is untroubled by dualities (external influences).

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