Reshaping attitudes in asana

Picture of Yoga Mandir
Yoga Mandir

Let me begin by asking a question – what is an asana?

Is it a position of the body, an alignment? Is it an object of concentration? Is it a line of energy as argued by Joel Kramer in his seminal article, ‘Yoga as self transformation’?

It is all of these things mentioned above, but it is also more. The longer I study yoga as a practice, the more aware I am that each asana is different, not only in its physical attributes but in what it requires from me.

As a beginner, when we first do Savasana it happens to us – we lie out as instructed by the teacher and allow our body to relax with the instructions. Effectively, we are guided through the process by someone else. It is done to us by the teacher. This is useful in that it gives an experience of where and how the pose exists, but it does not teach us how to do the pose. When we go home we practice by mentally repeating the instructions to ourselves in an attempt to arrive at the pose. Most students do this throughout their practice – they repeat the teacher’s words, thus, in effect, replicating the teacher’s practice. It would be better to have the experience of the asana in class, then return to that experience in your own practice. You should study the state of an asana not only its ‘points’. Don’t study the road-map, but study the experiences it leads to, and find your own way there.

Most students allow the teacher to define their experience for them. Whilst this level of practice is important for the student to come into contact with the asanas, by its nature it is limited to the definitions the teacher sets; it limits by exclusion. As a practice matures it must interact and discover intimately each experience/asana. To explore the asana in an unconditioned realm, away from the teacher is essential. This is not to say that practice formed by the teacher is less or more pure or even tainted in any way but for the purpose of self study (swadhaya) it exists outside oneself – formed elsewhere and therefore a contradiction to learning from experience. The teacher’s input should be to help the student immerse themselves in the experience of the practice, not to stand between the student and themselves. The student must accept and reject, and thus modify and re-inflect the teachers input until the experience of the practice is their own[1].

[1] read BKS Iyengar – Tree of Yoga, chapter : the fruit.

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