5 Weeks - Aspects of Asana
Updated though 7/2/2017
Asana (or seat) is the third of the eight limbs of yoga as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra. Out of all of the 196 aphorisms in the Sutra, only three have to do with actual asana, understood by us to mean any yoga posture. According to the text, we will be successful in meditation by achieving a comfortable and stable meditation seat. Luckily, we have endless yoga postures to help to build the strength and stability to maintain a meditative seat. The primary goal of an asana practice is to ultimately condition the body to be comfortable in meditation so that the body doesn’t cause distractions when practicing.
Yoga Asana can also help us to balance the energy in our bodies through practicing certain types of postures and/or flows. Through this five-week series, we’ll explore finding your appropriate seat, discover stability and comfort in postures, and the energetic effects that come from certain asana sequencing.
*Meditation notes will become available each week after practice
Week 1 - Workshopping Your Seat
One of the most intimidating aspects of meditation can be finding an appropriate seat, where the spine can be tall and the body relatively relaxed. The good news is that you don’t have to cross your legs in weird ways to reach states of enlightenment, and you can use props and even a chair to find a posture that is suitable for you. Watch this video to see the options that we explored during this class.
More good news is that we don’t have to do a full one-hour yoga sequence in order to be ready for meditation. Through practicing just a few postures before your meditation practice can greatly increase the effectiveness and success of your meditation experience. In this class, we’ll explore some of these simple, yet effective sequences.
Light in the Spine
See a blue healing light ignited at the base spine. With your inhale, see the flame rise through the vertebral column to the center of the brain. With your exhale, see it descend back to the base of the tailbone. Continue to follow this flow of light, inhale up the spine, exhale down the spine, from 2-5 minutes. With each pass of light, see impurities, stress, and trauma along the spine and in the chakras being burned away, leaving a pure column of blue energy. Bring the light to the center of your brain and see the light cleanse the mind of any thoughts or mental habit patterns that aren’t serving you. Lastly, see that same light spill back down into the spine and out through the central nervous system and into every cell, purifying the body, energy, and space surrounding the body.
Finding Your Comfortable Seat (VIDEO)
Week 2 - Sukha & Sthira (Stability & Comfort) in Asana
The essence of Asana is to condition your body in a way that will enable you to sit in meditation without your body becoming a distraction to your mind. In the Yoga Sutra (2:46), the sage Patanjali says that our posture should be both steady and comfortable, referring to an actual meditative seat. But this idea of Sthira (steadiness) and Sukha (comfort) also apply to all postures in hatha yoga. How do you know when you’ve mastered a pose? When it no longer pulls you away from your quest for higher consciousness, i.e. - when you find steadiness and ease in the pose.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to this idea. The first is that we should practice diligently to attain the proper physical ability in order to find a pose comfortable. The second is that we find steadiness by not allowing our discomfort in a certain posture to pull us out of our minds. I believe that both ultimately have to be true. If you want to find stability and ease in a pose like the splits, you both have to have the physical strength and flexibility to do the pose and you have to be willing to allow certain physical discomforts to not distract you. In this case, mastery of yoga asana is both a physical and psychological process.
Patanjali’s last thoughts on asana state that when we can find ourselves free from tension caused by effort and when we allow our minds to be “absorbed” in the infinite, complete mastery is attained and we will no longer be affected by the pairs of opposites. Mastery of an asana is when we can rest steadily and comfortably in a posture, while meditating on everything within ourselves and outside of ourselves simultaneously.
Softening the tension caused by effort
Become aware of the flow of breath in your nostrils. Notice the force at which your breath moves in and out. Try to soften that force/efforting, so that there’s barely any force of air in the breath. Relax your efforting that your breath softly sips in and softly sips out, creating the least amount of disturbance to the air around you.
Week 3 - The Langhana Effect
Depending on your current energetic state, you can use yoga asana to change that energy to suit your needs. The first way is by practicing postures that have a Langhana energetic effect. Langhana poses are calming, soothing, grounding, and inward turning. It’s best to practice these postures in the evening, when the nervous system is erratic, when your energy is frenetic, or after trauma. Langhana postures are sometimes considered to be more lunar or feminine in nature.
In general, the types of postures that we would label as Langhana are forward bending poses (like standing or seated forward folds, butterfly pose, knees to chest pose, pigeon pose), briefly-held twists, and some inversions. For physical safety, you wouldn’t want to practice a class with only Langhana poses in it, but you can have your main postures be Langhana, while counterposing with other types of poses.
Unlike chakra work, or other systems of energetic work, working to change your energetic state through Langhana is actually a physiological effect. These types of postures place gentle pressure on the vagus nerve, which runs along the anterior portion of the side of the spine (the side of the spine that faces inside the body) at the navel and throat. This gentle pressure sends a signal to your brain to lower your blood pressure and to calm the nervous system. It’s a literal switch in your body to counteract the effects of stress and erratic energy.
In terms of meditation, if your mind is erratic, ungrounded, or unfocused, Langhana postures can help get your mind into a state of balance fit for concentration. In other words, if you find yourself unbalanced on the frenetic energetic side of the spectrum, Langhana poses will help bring your back to your center.
Begin by engaging Sama Vritti pranayama, the even breath, by inhaling and exhaling for equal lengths of time. If you inhale for a certain number of counts, allow yourself to exhale for an equal number of counts. After two to three minutes, begin inserting a brief pause after your exhale. Just a heartbeat or two is long enough. There is not a pause after inhale. Continue the even breath with a pause after exhale for another two to three minutes. In the pauses after exhale, allow all thought to completely melt away.
Week 4 - The Brahmana Effect
Depending on your current energetic state, you can use yoga asana to change that energy to suit your needs. One way is by practicing postures that have a Brahmana energetic effect. Brahmana poses are heating stimulating, and extroverting. It’s best to practice these postures in the morning or afternoon, when you feel lethargic or apathetic, or when you feel stuck or depressed. Brahmana postures are sometimes considered to be more solar or masculine in nature.
In general, the types of postures that we would label as Brahmana are backbends (bow, locust, bridge), lateral poses (side plank, side warrior), extensions (downward dog, staff pose) and longer-held twists. Sun salutations also tend to be more Brahmana. For physical safety, you wouldn’t want to practice a class with only Brahmana poses in it, but you can have your main postures be Brahmana, while counterposing with other types of poses.
Unlike chakra work, or other systems of energetic work, working to change your energetic state through Brahmana is actually a physiological effect. These types of postures place gentle pressure on the vagus nerve, which runs along the anterior portion of the side of the spine (the side of the spine that faces inside the body) at the heart. This pressure signals your brain and nervous system to activate, uplifting your energy, and waking you up.
In terms of meditation, if your mind is sluggish, apathetic, or dull, Brahmana postures can help get your mind into a state of balance fit for concentration. In other words, if you find yourself unbalanced on the lethargic energetic side of the spectrum, Brahmana poses will help bring your back to your center.
Begin by engaging Sama Vritti pranayama, the even breath, by inhaling and exhaling for equal lengths of time. If you inhale for a certain number of counts, allow yourself to exhale for an equal number of counts. After two to three minutes, begin to extend the inhale to be up to twice as long as the inhale. Continue this practice for another two to three minutes to help solidify the Brahmana effect of the breath work.
Week 5 - Finding Balance in Asana
One use of asana is to create harmony between the left and right sides of the brain, creating balance and centeredness. Working through postures asymmetrically can challenge the brain to stay focused and heightens your awareness of your practice (and ultimately the world). You’re also balancing the muscular structure of your body. Our bodies are full of muscular asymmetries and by working both sides, we begin to identify the asymmetries and bring some harmony to them.
Another way asana can create balance is through actual balancing postures. To be able to balance, for instance in a standing pose, will create both mental and physical stability. When the mind is wandering and your attention wavered from the balancing pose, you will likely fall. When the mind is focused on the breath or drishti (gazing point), your mind is more stable and you will likely stay balanced for a longer period of time. When practicing balancing postures, you are tonifying the necessary muscles to remain stable. If your legs are weaker, you will make them stronger. If your core is less engaged, through practice, you will also make it stronger.
This balancing of body, energy, and mind is helping to create a centered space to be able to sit in meditation unaffected by the dualities of the world. There is no stronger pull from either the left brain (analytical) and right brain (abstract). You’re meeting yourself at the midline; your centered self.
Mental Alternate Nostril Breathing
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