Executing postures is something I’m actually quite good at achieving. In fact, I can be pretty darn creative at accomplishing almost anything I set my mind to – however superficial.
It’s true, with asana I’m a bit of a trickster. I’m good at using what I have and working around what I don’t. With a more muscular strength, some hyper mobility and a little physics for function, I find there’s not a whole lot I can’t figure out a passing way to achieve.
But I get the job done usually and no one’s the wiser. Until recently:
“… in a certain way, your practice is spot on in your execution of most postures (whether more or less difficult), powerful and accurate – not bringing up cause for correction. And yet, there are more subtle, less obvious hidden patterns that are challenging to recognize and correct, especially without my regular help … ” DG
At the time I was given this feedback, all I heard was “spot on in my execution … powerful … accurate … ” and most likely, I stopped really reading anything else.
My teacher did continue to try (bless his heart) and encourage me away from my tricks. My jumpback used “too much momentum” and my trick to make a second series bind accessible he just “didn’t like.” He rarely explains much in the way of mechanical how-to’s, just as he so seldom puts me in postures – always asking me to “find the gesture” and focus on the “FUULLLL extent of my breath!” in each one.
Not meaning to dismiss his guidance, I really struggled to let go of what I knew I could do to look for something I wasn’t sure I could find. My way was passible and even measurable. His was something I couldn’t see and hadn’t experienced. Admittedly my focus was less on my breath and more on my game plan for the real and tangible battle ahead.
You have been choosing to confine your thought activity to the material, to what you identify as what is here now, as though that perception were something solid, sensible, connected to the earth, grounded…….but that solidity is simply not real Peg.
I respond and tell him I’m not one of those kind of people who can move into some elusive world and feel what I cannot touch. I don’t know this subtle body you’re talking about and I might never.
You have more choice about where and how to direct your thought activity.
But he’s not talking postures anymore. And perhaps never was.
Yet, this doesn’t hit me until I’m rereading my notes taken from a meeting with my meditation teacher:
Your experience is made up of your thoughts but thought is too gross for subtle movement of energy. The goal of meditation is to shift from gross level of mind and body to subtle mind and subtle body.
Start with the body and then find the breath. Keep steering the mind to the sensations of the body. Follow the movement of breath and then back to the body. Keep steering and then throttle in and increase that intensity. Burn with it so much until the body and breath become the symbol for everything that is important in my life.
And then it hits me. This is my asana practice. This is what David has been telling me again and again throughout my entire yoga practice.
Practice gives you the type of knowing doesn’t require a thought process to come to it, there is no reasoning, no deliberation involved in its manifestation. Practice time is awake time, it is the time to put forth your best effort … Practice is naturally very practical-ha!–such as in Surya Namaskara when you become internally focused and intent on expressing the gestures that create the positions. These gestures involve the use of your whole body synchronized with your breath.
You find the end the point of each position at the same time as finding the end point of the inhalation or exhalation. These transition positions prepare you for a taste of nirodha when you strike the immovable spot in the state of the asana. (David Garrigues)
OMG, I tell David – you’re not teaching me asana! I’m such an idiot!
To which he responds, “The first statement is true.”
So I’m either incredibly confused and suddenly clear. But just to make sure, I go to an interview with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.
What is perfect asana, and how do you perfect asana?
K Pattabhi Jois: “Sthira sukham asanam.” (YS II.46) Perfect asana means you can sit for three hours with steadiness and happiness, with no trouble. After you take the legs out of the asana, the body is still happy.
In the method I teach, there are many asanas, and they work with blood circulation, the breathing system, and the focus of the eyes (to develop concentration). In this method you must be completely flexible and keep the three parts of the body-head, neck, and trunk-in a straight line. If the spinal cord bends, the breathing system is affected. If you want to practice the correct breathing system, you must have a straight spine.
From the Muladhara [the chakra at the base of the spine] 72,000 nadis [channels through which prana travels in the subtle body] originate. The nervous system grows from here. All these nadis are dirty and need cleaning. With the yoga method, you use asana and the breathing system to clean the nadis every day. You purify the nadis by sitting in the right posture and practicing every day, inhaling and exhaling, until finally, after a long time, your whole body is strong and your nervous system is perfectly cured. When the nervous system is perfect, the body is strong. Once all the nadis are clean, prana [subtle energy] enters the central nadi, called Sushumna. For this to happen, you must completely control the anus. You must carefully practice the bandhas [energetic locks]: Mulabandha, Uddiyana Bandha, and the others, during asana and pranayama practice. If you practice the method I teach, automatically the bandhas will come.
Asana is a Sanskrit word that is translated to anything from seat to posture to stay – and each one is true. Meditation, as used in English, is most commonly defined as a mental exercise (such as concentrating on one’s breathing) for the purpose of achieving a heightened level of spiritual awareness.
Pattabhi does not use the word meditation and yet describes perfect asana in a manner that indicates no real distinction between the two. He adds:
This is the original teaching, the Ashtanga Yoga method. I’ve not added anything else. These modern teachings, I don’t know… I am an old man!
The Ashtanga Yoga method – all eight limbs. David does a great job in his blog from yesterday discussing this. I highly recommend that if you haven’t read it – you read in now.
Me? I have nothing more to offer on the asana vs. meditation discussion as I’m not even sure it matters. Because whether my seat has been on a mat or a cushion, i’ve not truly been practicing yoga – just exercising my body and mind.
I assume the yoga will come … if I just continue to steer myself back to my breath along a long and clear central channel. Concentrate and focus here -no matter where here may be.