Posture (āsanam) needs to be both firm and alert (sthira) and soft and relaxed (sukham).
PRACTICAL LIVING In the last many sūtras Patañjali has been suggesting that we relate to others in an honest, kind and fair way. He also laid down the foundation for a peaceful life of self-growth by telling us to practice gratitude, be proactive, self-reflect and surrender to life’s natural flow. In this sūtra, Patañjali talks about āsana – posture – what often westerns perceive Yoga to be – only yoga poses. It is helpful to note that out of 195 sūtras, only four mention the body, 4/195.
Practically speaking, in our contemporary sedentary lives, maintaining a body that is both strong yet flexible is great advice. We need to move the spine (which houses the central nervous system) in different directions to keep it supple. Patañjali does not describe a specific methodology here. He simply talks about the qualities of firmness and softness. So whether your way of maintaining physical health is through yoga āsana, dance, swimming, running or something else, begin to notice whether you cultivate both qualities in your body as you’re moving. Generally speaking, we tend to be too firm, too rigid, putting too much emphasis on strength and having an attitude of doing 110%. This attitude frequently leads to pain, which blocks the breath and agitates the mind – the exact opposite of what Yoga suggests. Therefore, an attitude of openness, flexibility and softness are necessary components to keep in mind in our daily activities.
As with anything that Patañjali teaches us, this is not only limited to the physical body. What is the mind doing while you are in Downward facing dog? What is happening with your breath in Chaturanga Dandāsana? Cultivating a balance between effort and ease in the body, and alertness and spaciousness in the mind, is crucial in order to practice āsana to its full benefit. These qualities are fertile seeds for self-reflection: in any moment during our day we can pause and ask ourselves whether we are physically or mentally too stressed, too lethargic, or in that wonderful place of being energized yet relaxed.
IN THE YOGA WORLD As you may have noticed, the sūtras are a guide to internal transformation, and not a guide to the most flexible body or most acrobatic pose (as the media and many often portray it to be). Having said that, if the body – the container that carries the mind and soul – is not working well, it becomes an obstacle to inner change. We all know that when the body is hurting, all the mind thinks of is the hurting body part (the pain becomes a huge distraction). Also, since all layers of our being are interconnected, keeping the outermost sheath healthy is important as well since it will affect the thoughts and emotions. Āsana therefore is a means of keeping our physical structure in a state of balance, allowing us to contain the changes happening within. As Desikachar described it, āsana appropriately practiced has “alertness without tension and relaxation without heaviness”.
In classical meditation techniques, one sustains a seated meditation for prolonged periods of time. In order to do that without having the body become a distraction to the mind (discomfort or pain), we need to prepare it. Āsana is how Patañjali suggests that we prepare the body. We begin with the outermost layer (the physical) to prepare the more subtle parts of us to remain still and silent (meditation). That preparation allows us to hold a posture that is both effortful yet relaxed for prolonged periods of time. And firm yet relaxed āsana, like the other techniques that have been mentioned previously, is a practice – a lifetime practice.
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON Graceful and feminine yet strong and willful, observing Lauren navigate her life is a lesson in itself. Watching Lauren in her āsanapractice is like watching a beautiful ballet. She moves slowly, mindfully with ease. Her āsana classes embody the balance that Patañjali emphasizes on both a physical and mental level. When she demonstrates inversions to her students everyone has their eyes on the smooth and effortless movements she makes as she calmly explains what she is doing. And in real life, she also demonstrates that balance. Her attitude towards relationships seems to be that of a loving warrior. The warrior comes out as she speaks her truth and her loving kindness expresses itself with an amazing sense of humor and a sense that she really cares about you. Lauren, beautiful woman, I learn so much from you and your alive and delightful attitude towards life. Love you!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and next week we will discuss the body in more detail!
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When I started this training I think I had a firm and alert posture 90% of the time and only 10% was a soft and relaxed posture. Wow, was my balance completely off! Through practice, I think I have only moved the balance a little (maybe 85/15 now – LOL). But so grateful that I can now notice that I need to practice to gain more balance.
I feel like my key for learning how to balance soft and firm as well as overcoming obstacles is to let go of fear, surrender my mind & concentrate on breath. This balance that I have learned through asana, has literally transformed my life. Any obstacle that I encounter in life I feel is an imbalance. The letting go part is so liberating because it releases the weight of fear and to be able to breathe a focused breath allows a sense of control. It is pure freedom that brings me simple joy. When everything is balanced in an asana practice, I feel as if I am the only one present in the room and my body has dissipated, merging to the energy around me, allowing my soul to dance freely to the inspiration of my soul. Bliss.
This is a challenging concept for me! After implementing meditation, chanting and breath into my yoga practice I have come to understand how difficult it is for me to relax internally yet still be alert and maintain firmness. Finding this balance is so foreign to my mind because I have never allowed myself to believe they can go hand in hand. My recent surgery has literally forced me to let go of my focus on strength and firmness allowing more space for my mind to open and release, this has been a beautiful gift! Now it is time to develop a balance of effort and ease in my body while my mind stays alert and open.
As a competitive spirit usually over takes me, this is eye opening. I would say I’m competitive with myself, not so much those around me, but like Sandy, this is a foreign concept to me: not to give 110%. I love what we are learning through this Teacher Training about ourselves. Last week for instance, I struggled with something pinched in my neck… instead of my usual power through mindset, I gave into that weakness in my neck and took the modifications instead… my breath was much better, allowing my mind to be more present. I am about to embark on yet another learning experience: a knee surgery. I will be my own student in the yoga therapy department. I am upset that my knee is yet again hindering my daily activities, but excited to see how I can help others through their struggles after going through this myself. Thank you Lucia for your support and Guidance!
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