Are you doing the yoga postures
the right way?
Do you think that execution of a yoga posture
is just about some mechanical,
physical maneuver? You may be wrong.
Contrary to the popular belief Yoga
is not another form of exercise,
all yoga techniques call for complete involvement of the mental
and psychic faculties along with the physical one’s,
to be able to match the body posture to the ultimate blueprint it was designed to exist in.
Along with adhering to the general rules of doing a yoga posture one also needs to know the 3 As for doing it the right way: action, attitude, and alignment.
Attitude – The positive power, force , or the divine will (Iccha)will which comes from the heart and expresses itself in any action or asana, the desire to reawaken to our divine nature, and the celebration of life. Attitude is the force or energy which is expressed in an action, yoga posture.
Alignment – The mindful awareness of how our various parts are integrated, and interconnected. It is the knowledge of how different body parts are placed, and connected in relation to each other. The principles of alignment in yoga can guide one in this direction.
Action – The natural flow of energy in the body, which provides both stability and the free of expression through the body.
The yogi uses action to express his attitude through the alignment of the body.
This is similar to a musician ( yogi) who makes music ( performs an asana) by expressing his heart (attitude) through the playing (action) of properly tunes ( alignment of the body). The optimal expression in a yoga posture is possible only when the instrument of the body is properly aligned, the action is strong and balanced, and the attitude is spiritually pure and powerful.
This way you are optimizing your full physical and spiritual potential for the performance of that yoga posture. Your spirit will pour joyfully through the body with joyful freedom. In ordinary exercise stretching aims at creating maximum sensation, especially in a localized area of the body, whereas yoga performed with 3As has a profound spiritual intention, a high degree of mindfulness, precise alignment, and balanced energetic action.
Moreover, performing a yoga posture involves being evenly aware of the movements happening in the entire body.
Attitude while Performing the Yoga Posture
Attitude is also defined as bhava – the four basic bhavas in Samkhya and used in yoga – which is a quality of the heart and is expressed through a yoga posture. Attitude is what brings about inner transformation and spiritual fulfillment while doing a yoga posture. In order to initiate deeper inner transformation you need to have a pure spiritual expression from the heart while performing the asana.
The pure spiritual attitude opens up the deepest qualities of the heart, such as love and joy in the body, and in the surrounding environment. This pure attitude is the element that imparts the transformational potential to the the practice of Hatha Yoga along with its other benefits. A pure attitude during the performance of an asana also purifies the body as well as the mind.
Attitude is the power of your intention for practicing Hatha yoga, and also the power which ultimately fulfills this intention. You must set your intention for doing your yoga posture practice, abhyasa, before the beginning of each session; ask yourself what do you hope to gain and offer from the practice. This exercise will generate the accompanying thoughts and feelings which will set your intention for the practice.
The intention can be physical ( you want to improve the health or appearance of the physical body, or emotional ( you want to clear any blocked emotions), mental ( you want to achieve clarity in thoughts), or spiritual or to connect to the divine. You can also have any combination of the types as mentioned above.
By using the purest form of attitude while performing a yoga posture one actually fulfills the highest purpose of doing Hatha Yoga: By creatively expressing our hearts through various asanas we serve God by participating in the creative expression of life, we are in a better position to receive love by offering love in the ocean of grace; and it helps witness our true – divine – nature.
These two spiritual intentions arise from the two fundamental states of the heart, happiness and unhappiness. As you remind yourself of your divine nature before you begin the yoga practice your heart and mind (one must know the relationship between mind and brain) will get filled with the related joy and you would want to express the celebration through performing some yoga postures. You would be fulfilling the first spiritual motive by simply expressing the joy of the heart through the poses.
Some other times you feel unhappy as you are experiencing anger, grief, and fear in the moment. You don’t feel like celebration, but by just remembering the joyful true divine nature of, while setting the right attitude, creates a longing for happiness, love and peace you are bereft of in that moment. It also makes you aware of the distance unhappiness has created between you and your true blissful nature, this will make you want to return to it all the more.
Thus by adopting the right attitude while doing Hatha Yoga one is fulfilling both its higher spiritual motives: expressing joy and being in your true divine nature. Creating the right attitude for practicing yoga postures isn’t possible without engaging your will power. The will power is the inner force that is a balance between self-effort and the ability to surrender.
This dynamic balance is like a bird flapping its wings to remain afloat (self-effort) and also adjusting to the power of the wind ( surrender) it is trying to ride upon. Similarly, while doing a yoga posture the pulsation of self-effort and the surrender to the supreme power (limitations to the effort in the form of inflexibility of the body etc.) makes the experience of performing the pose enjoyable. When effort and surrender are balanced, the ride is smooth and enjoyable, their is a sense of ease (sukham) in experiencing the posture.
The strength of your will power fuels your intention, attitude. a stronger will power can unites the disparate parts of your self, being into a unified whole. This way all the parts of your self are brought together to fulfill your intention.
The strength of the will to join – yoga – with your natural divine self, or the God, supreme consciousness as some may call it, keeps you going on the path of spiritual attainment in spite of all the suffering or challenges working fulltime to dissuade you from achieving the same.
This extra effort to stay the right path, as fueled by the power of the will, is known as tapas in yoga. The term tapas signifies the qualities of endurance, perseverance, discipline, commitment, and resolve. Thus setting the right attitude for practicing yoga postures can help you generate the power of the will – tapas- to stick to the path of realizing your true divine nature i.e. the path of yoga.
Tapas is the inner fire, or the longing to unite with the supreme whole. It is this fire, so sustained by the right attitude that keeps one persistently rolling on the path of yoga and finally achieve the goal of union with the supreme self, also known as Purusha in Samkhya philosophy. For practicing yoga posture consistently the power of the will – tapas – is necessary to prevent the mind from wandering away from its purpose.
It imparts the strength and the stamina to the body and the mind to keep practicing yoga, evenly sustaining coordinated effort in different parts of the body, till the destination is achieved. With steady and focused practice the mind and the body gain strength and focus, new energetic patterns develop in the mind and the body, so less effort is needed to perform the postures with proper alignment and action.
When the effort is not accompanied by surrender it may lead to inner hardening and loss of sensitivity, which can in turn lead to harsh blindness, fanaticism, and extreme austerity. This may lead to violent and constrictive action in asana and therefore injury.
Effort corresponds to all the masculine energies like steadfastness, resolution, purity, boldness, fortitude, and surrender corresponds to all the feminine energies like joy, celebration, love, contentment, gentleness.
Alignment of Yoga Posture
The alignment of the yoga posture can take many contexts: it can range from the gross body form to the very subtle inner quality. At the grosser level the alignment of the yoga pose deals with the muscular, skeletal, and inter organ’s positioning in relation to each other. A particular shape the body takes is what differentiates one pose from the other.
At the subtler level alignment would mean the positioning of the inner body – prana, mind, and higher consciousness in relation to the outer physical body. If you perform yoga posture focusing only on the outer alignment, neglecting its inner component, the posture will lack complete integration of the whole self. It becomes a technique without feeling, science without art.
Alignment in yoga can also be taken in the context of the symmetry in the interconnectedness between the various parts of the inner and outer body. This means being mindful of how our posture (outer body) reflects our attitude (inner body).
This aspect of the alignment reflects the interrelation between the heart and the various parts of the body to form one piece of art. How this expression of the heart through the body parts actually expresses the glory of the spirit.
Alignment is the process of discovering one’s optimal blueprint and moving the body, with consistent awareness, into harmony with this blue print.
Align the Yoga Posture to the optimal blueprint of the body
The form and shape of the physical body is stretched upon a subtle energetic blueprint which exists, like a ethereal double, for each person’s body. The physical body develops as per the underlying subtle form of the optimal blueprint. This subtle energetic blueprint goes under transformation due to the impact of age, exercise, nutrition (vital minerals and other plant nutrients) , and genetics propensities.
The blueprint of any body consist of its dimensions in space which represents the possibility of its optimal alignment and health. Every position the physical body, superimposed over the energy body, can take has a specific alignment in which the prana, blood, and other fluids circulate with their optimally healthy flow. The optimal blueprint is this optimal alignment of the body.
Just by moving the position of the body towards the optimal blueprint improves the flow of all body energies. The body has the innate tendency to seek health and harmony. That is why the moment the body nears in alignment with its blueprint it opens up, the flow of body fluids along with prana increases. But, the body cannot move itself into the optimal alignment, it take conscious effort to align the body with its optimal blueprint.
The first step to align your body to your blueprint is to understand the gap between the blueprint and the present alignment of your body. Then using the will power you can adjust the position of the body towards its blueprint. Applying the universal principles of alignment to this exercise can help one find one’s blueprint.
Action while doing a Posture
The power behind the action in yoga posture is the will power which is used to express the attitude. Action is composed of two pulsating forces of contraction and expansion. This pulsating force is present within the entire universe including every part of the human body like the cells, glands, organs, bones, and the connective tissue.
Within the system of the human body the force which contracts from the periphery to the center of the body part , focal point, is known as the Muscular energy, and the force that expands outwards from the focal point of a particular body part id known as the Organic energy.
A focal point is the key place of energy inside the body for a given yoga posture, it is the place into which the muscular energy contracts and from where the organic energy expands outwards. For a given yoga posture the focal point can be located at any one of the three points located on the vertebral column, Sushumna nadi, in the body: core of the pelvis; bottom of the heart, and the center of the upper palate.
Only one focal points remains active for any given yoga posture, the focal point is the one which is nearest to the most weight-bearing part of the pose. The location of the active focal point for various yoga postures is given here.
- Standing and sitting postures – core of the pelvis
- Adhomukhasvan asana and most of the hand balances – bottom of the heart
- Inverted poses – upper palate
For supine postures and other yoga postures where all the three focal points are on the same horizontal level the core of the pelvis becomes active by default.
Muscular Energy of an Action – Yoga Posture
Muscular energy is the energy of the inner body which pulls the body parts inwards, closer to each other. This energy provides stability, strength, and physical integration. It draws all the parts of the outer body and mind together so that all the parts participate in the expression of the central intention. In the absence of the muscular energy the body moves in a disconnected, disintegrated, and unconscious manner.
Muscular energy draws from the extremities – hands, feet and head – into the focal point. Muscular energy is of two types: active and passive. When the muscles of the outer body are consciously drawn inwards, toward the focal point it is known as active muscular energy; whereas when the body is compressed down by the pull of gravity as one tries to relax.
Muscular energy has three directions of its flow: hugging the core evenly on all sides like the muscles of the arms and legs press equally on to the length of the bones running through them; secondly it draws the arms, the legs , and the head towards the midline of the body via the shortest possible route; third one is when it draws the arms, legs, and the head towards the focal point of the given yoga posture.
As muscular energy provides contraction of the muscles along their lengths the affected joins become more stable and compressed with a restricted range of motion within them. Apart from flowing from the extremities the muscular energy flows from the foundation of the pose to the focal point. Foundation of the yoga posture is that part of the body which directly or indirectly ( through a prop) touches the earth, or floor.
All the four sides of the foundation of the yoga posture must equally press down or be released down in order for the prana to circulate unhindered within the whole body. Foundation of the posture must be established before the muscular energy is created.
Organic energy of an Action – Posture
Muscular energy must be created before creating the organic energy. Organic energy moves outwards from the focal point, for this to happen efficiently the foundation of the pose must be properly established for the organic energy to push out against.
Since the direction of motion of the organic energy is towards the periphery it is an outward expression of the attitude. It is an unfolding energy that creates expansion, length, breath, opening in the body, and freedom of movement in the joints. It is more subtle and intrinsic energy than the muscular energy and carries the expansive qualities of the heart such as celebration and loving devotion to the extremities of the body.
Organic energy is of two types: active and passive. Active organic energy is the powerful expansive force like an explosion of the star, radiating in all directions from the core. Organic energy occurs when one relaxes and allows the gravity to pull down and spread the body out. It is like water naturally spreading our on a flat surface without any boundaries.
The three main directions of flow of the organic energy are explained here.
- Flowing from the focal point out along the core lines into the extremities. The energy moves down to the foundation, up into the head and out of the fingers and toes.
- Expanding the extremities out away from the midline of the body. It creates an isometric expansion of the arms and legs away from each other.
- Flowing out from the core lines of the extremities to the outer circumference of the body. This is a concentric from the bones to the skin along the shortest vectors.
The flow of the organic energy into the foundation of the yoga posture stabilizes its grounding further so that the organic energy from the focal point can take a bounce from the stable foundation and radiate up and outwards leaving the upper body feeling lighter and free.
Balanced Action of the Posture
In every yoga posture there has to be a balance between the muscular and organic energy for the free flow of spirt and energy in the body to occur. This energy balance must be present in every limb and throughout the torso so that the body can completely participate in the expression and performance of the posture.
Balanced action creates an optimal amount of both stability and freedom of movement in the body, so that the energy can flow freely. When combined with good alignment, balanced action optimizes flexibility and strength, accelerates healing, and brings radiant health to all parts of the body. It helps improve the circulation of blood, lymph, oxygen, and prana within the body.
Since the action is balanced throughout the body parts chances of any possible injury due to overstretching in any one part are reduced. An imbalanced action in a yoga posture can harm the health on the contrary. Muscular energy can go proportionately higher if the inwards movement is made due to protection out of fear and aggression.
An excessive amount of organic energy could be due to over relaxing, hypermobility, or hyper-flexibility. This can cause slow down the circulation of the body fluids, under performance of the organs and higher probability of muscle strains and tears.
For any action in one direction there must be a balancing action in the opposite direction. Learn to use the sea -saw principle of aligning the body in any yoga posture: If one end of the bone or section of a body is moved in one direction, the opposite end or section will automatically move in the opposite direction.
Conclusion: Yoga postures are not mechanical movements that take place in other forms of exercise. In order to reap the proper benefits from doing a yoga posture a proper understanding and application of the concepts of attitude, action, and alignment must be undertaken.
Attitude corresponds to the feeling generated in the heart which is expressed through the action and alignment of the yoga posture. By moving the body into proper alignment by executing a balanced action powered by a pure attitude in order to create a healthy space within the system one allows the free flow of energy within the body which leads to radiant health.