An essential element, or Seed of Practice within the tradition of Hatha Yoga, is embodied Asana. Where the physical postures (Asana) are explored with an Awareness and mindfulness that connects us more deeply with ourselves. As well as moving the body, we feel into the body – noticing what is happening within, and exploring this with a sense of lightness and natural curiosity.
‘YOGA MUST NOT BE PRACTISED TO CONTROL THE BODY:
IT IS THE OPPOSITE, IT MUST BRING FREEDOM TO THE BODY,
ALL THE FREEDOM IT NEEDS.’ *
In the west, Asana is generally referred to as physical postures. However, in the practice of classical Hatha Yoga, Asanas are a deeply embodied experience: ‘Dynamic internal dances in the form of postures. These help to keep the body strong, flexible, and relaxed. Their practice strengthens the nervous system and refines our process of inner perception.’ **
When we practice embodied Asana, we practice with the intention:
‘sthira sukham asanam’
Asana should be steady and sweet.
(Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Sutra 11.46)
Or more specifically, every Asana: ‘…should be done with a feeling of firmness, steadiness and endurance in the body; goodwill in the intelligence of the [mind], and awareness and delight in… the Heart’. *** As we learn and explore the core principles of embodied Asana, we are able to access a deeper, more subtle Awareness of what it means to be comfortably centred ‘in the Body’, as well as the Mind and Heart – and Asana becomes a delightful meditation in action!
PLANTING YOGA’S SEEDS OF PRACTICE – FINDING OUR ‘GROUND’
Those of you who practice with me, will already know that I place great importance on the feet! Particularly in standing postures (Asana). Much like the roots of a plant, the feet are essential for connecting and grounding us to the earth. Often neglected, they are our physical foundation – not only supporting us as we explore Yogasana, but, as importantly, helping us to access a deeper sense of stability and wellbeing in daily life…
Next time you’re standing somewhere – in a queue, or at the kitchen sink, just notice what your feet are doing (or not doing!). Have you unconsciously shifted your weight to one leg? Are you placing more weight on the inner edges of your feet – the big toe, ball and inner heel? Or the outer edges of the feet – the little toe and outer heel? Notice your posture when you are doing this. How are you ‘standing’?
Now. Consciously. Shift your weight evenly onto both feet. Spread the feet as much as you are able. Broaden each foot. Spread the toes. Feel every part of the soles of the feet (toes, balls, heels) connecting more deeply with the surface on which you stand. Imagine the feet growing roots and gently grounding you. Allow gravity to assist. Yield down through the feet, and feel the support of the floor, the earth. Notice, that in doing this, we begin to realign the whole body, from our foundations up. Don’t forget to breath! Smile, and enjoy!
This, and other embodied awareness practices have made such a positive contribution to the way I ‘stand’. Improving my posture and natural alignment on a physical level, and also, gently centring and ‘grounding’ myself mentally, and at times emotionally as well. As we re-awaken the body, we begin to Awaken ourselves… Believe it or not, this is Yoga in action – grounded, simple and sweet!
Does this Seed of Practice resonate with you? What are your own experiences of Embodied Asana and Yoga? You can get in touch with me here. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
YOGA’S ‘SEEDS OF PRACTICE’
Over time, I’ll be sharing a little more about the essential elements of Yoga – what I call the ‘Seeds of Practice’ – From Nature and embodied Asana (physical postures), through to practical Meditation, Svadhyaya (Self enquiry) and beyond… From the Yogic perspective, real understanding can only arise through direct experience. By exploring Yoga’s Seeds of Practice, we not only improve our health and wellbeing, we can also access a deeper place within ourselves – and awaken into our connection with all of Life.
(Image: Spontaneous Vrksasana (Tree pose in half lotus), deep in the wilderness of Girraween National Park, Australia 2009. Where do you feel the most grounded, centred + calm? Photo by Andrew).
* Vanda Scaravelli
** Donna Farhi
*** BKS Iyengar from his commentary on the ‘Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali’