“Asana is a steady, comfortable posture.”
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Book 2, Sutra 46
The physical objective of asana practice (physical poses) is to find balance between:
Sthira - Effort / Steadiness / Stability
& Sukha - Ease
In every pose, evaluate where the body is exerting effort and where it is easeful.
While in the pose:
Inhale to lift in the body. Through the hips, the spine, or the crown of the head.
Exhale to relax. Through the shoulders, the temples, seeking more ease any place that is open to receive it.
Maintain your grounding. Push into your feet, hands or any part of the body making contact.
Continue to ask yourself - Which parts of the body are engaged in effort, actively grounded?
How does that effort facilitate other places in the body to invite more ease? Embrace that strength and lift through it with an inhale.
What stress or strain can I release? What muscles are working that don’t need to be?
Release it with an exhale.
If you take a breath or two and find that you are unable to find ease,
or the effort is heavily outweighing the ease,
pull back. Move into a less demanding variation of the pose.
Less is more. For inflexible people, for flexible people, for all people.
Really, less is more. For every body. In every pose you hold, continue to look for the balance between effort and ease with each breath. The smaller and slower we move, the more nuance we're able to observe in the body. It becomes easier to see where sthira and sukah, effort and ease, are moving and exchanging energy to create each pose.
For inflexible people:
You do not have to be naturally flexible to do yoga. The global yoga community is growing more diverse and more accessible for every person.
When we think of an asana (pose), we often get attached to a certain shape. This is what it is “supposed” to look like, or this is what everyone else in the room looks like.
But the shape in the mind can not benefit you
the same way that honoring that shape in your body will.
The most information, the most strength building, the most benefit that you’ll receive in each pose will be in your shape. And just as everyone's body is unique, everyone's asana shape is their own.
The shape is only beneficial when it benefits the body.
For flexible people:
What I have learned through my own yoga journey is that you don’t have to go into the fullest expression of a pose to get the full benefits of it. And the pose is not incomplete until you stretch a hyper-flexible muscle to its furthest extent.
I, Michelle Brandt, am a flexible human. I always have been. I've often heard my ego say,
“But I can go further than most people can... Do it. It’s impressive. Inner peace or bust!”
I have learned to challenge that thought and turn inward instead of considering what others may be looking at or thinking.
Often times we’ll compromise form other places in the body to showcase flexibility in another.
I see it in these peaceful warrior images, taken one year apart.
Summer 2017 -> Summer 2018
The ease in my face from releasing the effort to support my neck.
My hip rotating back to facilitate the curve in the spine, compromising my grounding.
The extra effort in my invisible arm in a half bind.
An inability to invite ease in my shoulders.
Even the effort in my reaching fingertips.
I wasn’t learning as much about my body practicing yoga that way.
I wasn’t losing weight or getting stronger.
I wasn’t as aware of myself.
I don’t criticize myself, I acknowledge how much I’ve grown and learned.
I acknowledge that the effort is now more productive, and that all effort can be coupled with ease.
I honor the way that my body moves, but I achieve the greatest success at the point that I am equally stable & easeful, and able to maintain the pose in alignment.
For all people
When approaching each pose - Consider not how far you can go, enjoy the journey into it.
Move slowly into each pose. If you find stability and ease along the way, rest in it for a moment.
Scan through the body looking for any opportunities to open and stabilize,
perhaps before moving further into the pose.
Honor where your body is today, in this moment.