In exploring the principles that underpin the practice of Āsana the first idea to consider is that our practice is not just another form of exercise. Yoga Āsana are more than just physical postures or exercises to stretch and tone the body. From within its Haṭha roots the concern of Yoga is our relationship with the force which is behind and influences our movements and actions.
Further the different practice elements that constitute a mature Yoga practice are not separate compartments. They are linked through the principles underpinning them. A meditative attitude in the practice of Āsana complements a stable posture in the practice of seated Dhyāna or meditation.
For example even though we are emphasising the body by using Āsana there is still a quality of respiratory steadiness and mental focus. Equally when we are engaged in more static meditational practices there is still a quality of physical steadiness and strength. This is reflected through our ability to maintain a stillness within our seated practices with an erect spinal posture.
So from this we can observe that a steady mind is required to engage the body in such a way as to maximise the potential benefits from the Āsana. Equally a stable, healthy body is helpful when the focus of our practice is the mind.
This means we can move into the work in the Āsana whilst experiencing less disturbance from the mind and whilst working with the mind in Dhyāna experience minimal disturbance from the body.
To support and draw these different strands together the teachings of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar prioritised increasingly subtle principles or guidelines that are introduced and gradually developed to help us work more effectively within the Āsana because of a learned quality of attention in the mind and thus enhanced sensitivity to and in the body.
From this attentiveness we can also learn about the mind through self observation of our attitudes and patterns in and towards our body whilst working on our Āsana practice.
Some examples of these practice principles will be offered in future posts as a support for anybody wishing to look at how Yoga evolves through and beyond Āsana and its potential as a tool to help us explore our understanding of self and how integrating these principles into our personal practice can influence our inner and outer environment.
These practice principles also offer a map that, if followed intelligently and practiced consistently with the support of a teacher, can lead the student towards the experience that lies at the heart of Yoga practice. That of being linked with one’s deeper nature and its sagacious qualities.