“Asanas have been evolved over the centuries so as to exercise every muscle, nerve and gland in the body. They secure a fine physique, which is strong and elastic without being muscle-bound and they keep the body free from disease. They reduce fatigue and soothe the nerves. But their real importance lies in the way they train and discipline the mind.”
BKS Iyengar The Illustrated Light on Yoga
What most of us expect when we first go to a yoga class is to practise physical postures, what we may not expect is actually how much awareness it takes and how difficult it is to focus the mind. The sanskrit term for posture is Asana, which is the third limb of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga (see previous posts for a brief introduction to the first two, the Yamas and Niyamas). In this blog post we are going to discuss awareness in Asana.
One of the definitions of Yoga is to Unite - unite the mind, body and soul. One of the hardest parts of the physical asana yoga practise is to keep the mind steady. We are constantly judging, watching other peoples practise and comparing ourselves to those who are more flexible or strong. We take ourselves away from the fact that Yoga is for absolutely everyone and everyone’s practice is their own. It doesn’t matter what the person next to us is doing - that’s their Yoga, not ours. That is the beauty of it. Everyone is completely different, and everyone’s practise is unique. Once we take our mind into our own body and accept exactly where we are at in our practise, we truly feel that beauty, and each moment is a lesson, a realisation, a true gift.
So how do we do this, how do we keep our awareness in our own practise and stop our mind from wandering into others or thinking about what we’re gonna have for tea. Well my yogi friends, one of the ways we can improve our awareness is to connect to the magical life force that runs through us day in and day out, the Breath.
Each time we start a class, we begin with Pranayama practises, which are breathing techniques. We bring our awareness to the breath, allowing the mind to settle and get the Prana (life force/energy) moving in the body preparing us for our practice. The breathing exercises help us to expel any stale oxygen from the lungs and invite fresh oxygen into the body, creating space within, cleansing the body, making it easier for us to practise.
When we allow our awareness to settle with the breath, we bring the mind into the body. Getting used to the breath is enough for beginners, but as we continue to practise and become used to the breath, we unveil a whole new aspect to our practise. We find space, space to explore, space to feel where we are at, feel for alignment, feel our body - something that we aren’t very good at. Most of us live in our heads, and the connection between the mind and body is lost. We can find this connection again - but its takes practise, discipline and dedication.
“If asana is practised, then bodily and sensory diseases will be destroyed. If pranayama, conducive to concentrating the mind, strengthening the sense organs, and enabling the mind to be stilled without becoming unstable, is practised, then diseases present in the body, sense organs, and mind will be cured, allowing the mind to achieve concentration and perceive the Inner Self.”
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Yoga Mala
When we first start to practise, the thoughts and distractions that constantly run through our minds can take us away from our experience. Thoughts and distractions will always come, we need to learn to catch the thoughts, observe them, and chose whether we involve ourselves in the stories we make up in our heads. Ask yourself “does this thought have meaning right now or can it wait?” Most of the time the answer is - it can wait. Then, we have space, even if it is only for a second, the space is there, this is the space we want to achieve. We can practise this in day to day life by light-heartedly observing our thoughts, decipher which ones have purpose and which don’t. After time and with dedication and practise, we can stay in the space we create for longer periods of time, we know that it is always within and can bring our awareness into that space instead of drifting off into thoughts. This is the art of refining our awareness.
Once we begin this practise eventually we find it easier to settle into the Asana, instead of drifting off we keep our awareness in every part of the movement and move with our breath. Everything starts to come together, we have the space to be more aware of our alignment, bandhas (locks) and drishti (focus/gaze), our mind and body work as a team and we open up to our experience, arriving at home in our own body.
It’s important to note that this is practise for a lifetime and maybe lifetimes to come! Our body changes every day, each time we practise there is so much to learn, so much space to be found and so many realisations to be had - all of this comes in time and everyone’s pace is different. No one’s journey is the same and everyone’s is a personal experience. Stay on your path, this is your journey and it is magical.
So, next time you are on the mat try to stay with your experience. Keep your awareness with the breath, accept where you are at, keep it light and playful and show yourself love. You’ll be amazed at how your mind and body will respond.
Keep practising Yogi Bear’s and enjoy it <3