Hello and Happy Monday,
We are in our first full week of August and I couldn't be happier. Michael and I share August as our birthday month, and I still get excited about my birthday and even more about the day I became a mom. While I am happy to be able to celebrate these milestones, our birthdays are at the end of the summer which means school is starting up again. A bittersweet time, summer is fun and carefree and school is full of routine, structure and lots of work. I believe we need both. I believe asana (ahhs-on-a) works the same way.
Asana is the third limb of the eight limb path of yoga. Yamas and niyamas were the first two limbs. So let's climb this tree. First, the way I remember how to say asana is that isn't a sauna, so I hear it in my head before I say it. The word asana is sometimes translated as "comfortable", "easy", or "seat". It is described as a comfortable seat that can be held for a long period of time. Keep in mind that "seat" doesn't literally mean sitting down, but instead a position we can hold.
When we move our body it feels good, and we need to move our body for lots of reasons. One reason is to clear energies in our body. I'm not getting woo-woo, instead think about the last time you felt uneasy, anxious or worried - did you find that you couldn't sit still? Do you notice if you pace when you are uneasy, or perhaps feel the need to go on a walk, or get on your bike, or show up to Zumba (dance) class? This is all part of the autonomic nervous system and designed to keep the energies or moods or states in safe and social instead of in a state of flight or fight. So, not woo-woo at all. What the yoga does through asana is to try and get your mind and body to connect. This way we are better able to listen to our body and figure out what it needs so we can be in a safe and social state more often. This is what I love about the asana practice and the many styles of asana classes out there because sometimes it takes different ways to move our body to get to that safe and social state.
My first 8 years of yoga were done in New Jersey and all taught by Iyengar teachers, primarily two Iyengar teachers. The structure of the classes was the same, upon arrival we would sit and center - during our centering we would practice different breathing exercises, chant mantras and try to remain still, this could last from 5 minutes to 15 minutes. After that, my teachers would start teaching asanas, postures, one at a time, but in a sequence where the poses would build on each other. We didn't flow from pose to pose - a posture was named with instructions and cues on how to get into it and then the teacher would walk around the room and adjust the posture for your body. Sometimes we were in postures for a few minutes. Sometimes we were in and out of the same posture for half the class. Also, there was no music, just the sounds of us moving into postures, our breath and the teachers' voice. I would describe this type of practice as structured and routine-based and I obviously loved it as it provided a wonderful juxtaposition to my lifestyle in my 20s.
After I moved to the DC area in 2007 the closest Iyengar studio was "too far" to be convenient and after a year of searching, discovered a flow studio 5 blocks from my home. The classes were so very different from what I was used to, loud music, one pose into another, laughing, singing, crying and because I was familiar with each posture I was comfortable enough in the studio. As a new mom, trying to create a schedule for naps, nursing, walks, this free form fun flowing class was just what I needed.
This is what I love about yoga, whatever path you are on, I believe it can support you. This yoga path, in my 21st year of practicing yoga on a regular basis, has provided me with more support than anything else in my life. It's why I choose to keep walking this path of yoga. It's why I love teaching asana classes and infusing it with the other limbs, the philosophies and all the teachings I have learned over the years.
I am looking forward to exploring asana and the other limbs with you, wherever you are on your path, step by step.