In “Fundamental movement – 5 ways to explore the tapestry of yoga” (see January blog), we explored the breadth which could be embraced by a single perspective view, or thread which we could follow to weave our yoga practice together and into our lives. In this second blog of the series, we’ll focus now on some of the depths we can plumb with this perspective, in this case getting stuck into considering Asana.
Asana is the limb of yoga which is most visible. We are a visual species, and so maybe it’s not surprising that yoga has in some ways become synonymous with asana and vinyasa. But remember, “atha yoganusasanam” – now is the teaching of yoga. Yoga can find us in our own “now” – there is no dogma or judgement of where this “now” is. If asana is the aspect of yoga which is currently speaking to you, then that’s wonderful- and it has lots to offer.
Asana need not be hierarchical; it can respond to how you feel, today. Asana need not be confined to the mat; it can support our physicality throughout our lives. Yoga can ground us, and yoga can lift us up. In this blog, I will explore these ideas further.
An anti-hierarchical approach
I think because it is such a common social narrative in our culture, we strive. We look to improve, to advance, to increase our strength, deepen our stretch. We feel proud to master a new variation, and through the language we use (perhaps unintentionally) a hierarchy is imposed. Some postures are “easy”, others more “advanced”. And therefore, surely, one is better than the other – right?.
I hope that by approaching asana through the lens of “fundamental movement” that this focus can be shifted. The human body is unimaginably complex and integrated. And learning how it moves, and how its different parts connect, deepens our respect and love of it (certainly it has for me!). It also helps us to move our yoga away from the mat. To consider all our movements throughout our days.
So I would like to develop this fundamental aspect of movement in my classes. Tadasana may sometimes be overlooked as an uncomplicated, or purely transitional pose. But truly it is fundamental. One of the earliest impulses we have as children is to lift ourselves up, but even as adults it is wonderful to appreciate how the strength and engagement in our feet affects how the weight flows through our legs, in turn affecting our hips, and through the connection at the sacrum up our spine as well. A full head-to-toe pose!
Each asana, in each body, teaches a different lesson at different times. Every day, every body is different! I don’t think there is a “better” variation of a posture as long as you are practicing it while listening to what your body needs. Kapotasana practiced seated on a chair,with one leg crossed over the other (knee to ankle) is beautiful. There are indeed other ways that this asana can be practiced, but they are just that – different, not better..
Supporting our physicality away from the yoga mat
Thinking about “fundamental movement” is interesting in terms of how most of us spend our time in the UK - sitting in chairs, standing, walking, lying in bed. This is a very, very narrow range of activity for bodies as complex as ours! But wishing it were not so, will not change reality.
As part of thinking about our fundamental movement as humans, I am exploring ways to help people strengthen the muscles that can support them in these positions (core work everyone, hoorah!), as well as loosening up the tensions developed by these repetitive and restrained ranges of motion (our poor old rotator cuff muscles).
But as well as a chance to strengthen and release the muscles, connective tissues and joints we are currently using, yoga can also give us a chance to reconsider the full breadth of fundamental movement we, as a species, are adapted to use on a daily basis. And ask ourselves, what is the result of not doing so?
How we connect to the floor - movement as a response to gravity
Given the complexity of our physiology and how multiplicative this is once it responds and grows in relation to our behaviour, it can feel almost impossible to give any sense of structure to our movement. And in truth, any structure or classification we give is purely layered on top for our own understanding and clarity. Nevertheless, it can be interesting to explore a framework within which to challenge and consider our bodies and how we use them.
One way to explore the diversity of possibilities in our bodies, is to think about gravity. This force which pervades all matter – which everything and everyone has, and which draws all objects towards each other’s centre. We feel this force most strongly from the earth which supports and is home to us. So I’ve been thinking about how we come into contact with the ground beneath us. I’ve created 5 broad categories, so that I can help my classes (and my own practice) incorporate the broadest range possible of getting our bodies moving!
A few final words
I would love it if our yoga practice could help us to enjoy and understand our bodies more, to feel liberated to explore moving in novel ways and to find more comfort in the ways we spend our time.
I have loved exploring my own perspective of movement and how this relates to yoga. Like any thought experiment, I am in no way suggesting that this is the only way to approach our practice. But I have found it really fun, and really challenging, and I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing it with you. If you have any thoughts, questions or ideas please do get in touch!
I wish you all happy movement, yogis!
Amy Blythe - Atha Yoga - based in Thame, Oxfordshire.
Please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: Samādhi Pāda 1)
©Amy Blythe, April 2023
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