Effortful Asana and I

The practice of ashtanga yoga is divided into eight limbs. These eight limbs form the basis that guides yogis to Samadhi. Asana is the third limb and based the book ‘Light on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’ by B.K.S Iyengar:
“Asana means posture, the positioning of the body as a whole with the involvement of mind and soul. Asana has two facets, pose and repose. Pose is the artistic assumption of a position. ‘Reposing in a pose ‘ means finding perfection of a pose and maintaining it, reflecting in it with penetration of intelligence and with dedication. When the seeker is closer to the soul, the asana comes with instantaneous extension, repose and poise.”
Before attending the 200hr Yoga Teacher Training Course (“200hr YTTC”) at Tirisula Yoga, yoga asana to me was simply a form of workout to help me relieve stress and to keep fit. It was just getting into the pose (as long as it looked right and nice), staying there, breathing for a few counts and sweating my heart out. Never did I know (or rather I wasn’t interested to find out then) that this so-call ‘asana’ was more than just poses.
What did I learn about asana in the 200hr YTTC? Well, I learned a lot and am still learning, practising and exploring:
(1) There are techniques to get into each pose with proper body alignment and precision. This is so not only to achieve gracefulness but also efficiency. Understanding human anatomy (the human body structures including skeleton, joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons and movement) helps us to optimize our asana practice, break through blockages and avoid injuries so that we can stay in the pose longer and with ease.
(2) There are physical and health benefits as well as contradictions and precaution in each pose. Understanding human physiology (how human cells, tissues, organs and body systems work) and the role of yoga in this aspect enables us to practice safely while at the same time reap the benefits of asana.
(3) While practising asana, we have to relax our brains, activate all the cells in our vital organs, muscles and skeletal body and regulate our breathing to concentrate in achieving balance and steadiness in the pose. At the physical level, this strengthens, provides flexibility and stamina to our bodies. At the subtle level, it rids our minds of stagnant thoughts and prejudices, brings us towards consciousness of our own bodies and eventually to awareness of our own ‘self’, our souls.
As I have been running for 10 years, practising asana is a painful process because of my tight and weak muscles all over. Through the 3 months in the 200hr YTTC and my daily core and strength training, I have seen encouraging results. At the physical level, I have grown stronger as I learned to get into more difficult poses one by one. At the subtle level, it is obvious that I am still very far away. However, I believe that through disciplined practice and perseverance, I will reach there one day.
In the ‘Light on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’, it is mentioned that:
“In the beginning, effort is required to master the asana. Efforts involve hours, days, months, years and even lifetimes of work. When effortful effort in an asana becomes effortless effort, one has mastered that asana.”
I look forward to the day when my ‘effortful effort in asana become effortless effort’, that is when asana becomes part of me. Till then, keep practising!
Karen Lee (200hr Yoga TTC 07/14 Weekend)

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