You may not know that yoga is so much more than the postures (‘asanas’). In fact only around 2% of the Yoga Sutras discuss the asanas we are so familiar with in a physical yoga practice. You may know that the word yoga means to yoke or to unite. Whilst it is theoretically possible for the body, breath, mind to act independently, it is the purpose of yoga to unite them.
Krishnamacharya is generally regarded as the father of modern yoga and together with his son Desikachar formed the basis of what we know as ashtanga yoga. In Desikachar’s book. ‘The Heart of Yoga’ he reviews the ancient yogic text the Yoga Sutras in detail. He notes how YS 2:46 discusses the need for all asanas to have two equally important qualities:
Sthira can be translated as ‘steadiness and alertness’
Sukha meaning ‘ability to remain comfortable’
He goes further in saying that yoga is not like dance or theatre as it should not not be done for anyone but ourselves. By taking notice of how we feel moving through the postures and connecting breath to movement, we become both the observer and the observed. We start to listen to our bodies and, in observing Sthira and Sukha, are respectful to what we need, rather than letting the ego take over.
This Sutra advises us that it is our approach to the practice that matters, not the achievement of a perfect posture. Our inner state matters way more than our outward appearance.
So next time you’re practising, start to really listen and notice how you feel, beginning where you are, not where you want or think you should be. Using your Ujayii breath (gently constricting the exhale so you are able to hear the out breath) can help you notice and feel the breath.
If you’re experiencing pain or excess strain or stress in body or breath, then learn to back off a little, always aiming for steadiness and ease through each posture and their connecting movements.
In each moment try to observe what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
You might consider what your most and least favourite postures might be. Practice regularly your least favourite and try to find steadiness and ease by looking to the modifications you need to aid this. Often what we perceive as negative is not that bad, but only made bad by the layers of self talk we add on such as ‘oh no, I always fall out of tree posture so I’m not going to bother trying’.
Instead, look towards the many modifications available to you to help you find steadiness and ease in that posture for how your body feels and presents today. By taking a step back and becoming our own observer, we can stop our pride and ego from getting in the way of doing something that can benefit both our body and state of mind.