Why do we practice Asana as a vital part of Yoga? I believe the primary reason is that the physical intelligence of the body is a repository for unsatisfying experiences. These memories get stuck in our system if we do not clear them out regularly.
If I had to make a map to describe the current state of my human energy body I would use three axises. High and low energy, positive and negative emotion and inward and outward focus. Yoga seeks to bring consciousness to all corners..
The way we orient to our environment is very important. We are social beings with an amazingly fluid ability to communicate using our body. So we need to navigate through high and low and positive and negative energies internally and express them outwardly to the world.
The two negatives energies which speak loudest to our pain are vigilance and fear. Fear is obviously a cause of suffering while vigilance might appear to be exciting but eventually will be revealed as insecurity.
These emotions of fear and vigilance are entwined between high and low energy states. Usually fear is low energy and vigilance is high energy, however our bodies are capable of creating an image for outward interpretation.by external others. This is because we are socially required to display our feelings. So things can get confused and then we lose our freedom to choose.
Finding an intimate personal experience of safety and security requires us to shake off and let go of these sticky emotions like fear and vigilance and others
Of course its also necessary to decorate our life and make it beautiful. But If you were to create a home, would you not first clean and repair before decorating. Put everything back in its place, then arrange the parts harmoniously and then paint a pretty picture.
Similarly, Yoga Asana begins with cleaning up the messy energies and aligning the parts then going on to cultivate positive affect in mind and heart.
So if you are with me on the mission to compost the stagnant energies of fear and vigilance and use that raw energy to grow flowers of positive feelings I’d like to describe a process.
I know we have many other negative emotions like disgust and anger but I’m reducing them to two physical states.
Fear makes us contract; meaning muscles will contract to produce what is called the flexion response. This is closing the front of the body to protect vital organs and blood vessels. This type of posture is quite unbalanced for the spine’s discs. Typical problems include hypertonic psoas, pectoralis minor and sterno-cleidomastoideus muscles. Also while it (What?) feels safe it tends to keep us introverted and restrict breathing.
Vigilance is displayed as a hyper-erect posture. Some of the previous muscles mentioned, and others, create extension in the spine so we appear taller. This might look like good posture but the worst part is the shift to hyperextend joints locks the knees and loads the sacrum. This type of posture suits a high energy state well but it can also produce the type of thoracic breathing which helps us stay anxious.
In between the two physical extremes there is a calm place. Yoga is a state of awareness that can extend to all possible experience in those who are awakened. However it’s easier to wake up the subjective awareness when we are calm in the mind, easy in the breath and comfortable in the body.
So my basic approach to the practice of Asana works with harmonising fear and vigilance using every breath. Then to reverse the breathing pattern to unlock the trapped energy from the body.
Possibly the breath holds more psychosomatic emotional patterning than the body does – but thats another story.
Once the energy starts to flow we check in with centering to find the balanced place between the two extremes. There we can find comfort and poise and untangle the knots of psychosomatic stress from our physicality.
Asana is an essential practice to purify the body of negative energy and transform this energy into calmness. The calm comfortable state is the best place from which to express personal goodness to the world.
Asana explores the extremes to help us find our center. Extreme fear feels like paralysis and indeed Yoga-Asana utilises this immobilising trait to transcend the physical but this level of practice is quite advanced. Sitting completely still for hours a day, contorting the body to the furthest limits and then holding with calm breath while the nerves implode.
The price of peace, some say, is eternal vigilance though I feel personal security can be much easier to attain. Perhaps by finding a somatic balance we support an attempt for emotional wellbeing. Asana also teaches how to hold high energy tone in the muscles of action.
The easiest and most available place to find inner peace is in between these two states. Its endlessly subtle trying to balance the two. There is in fact no real center, just centering.
Letting go of trying to achieve the perfect center makes the practice always accessible and valid.
Then we can meet our fears and defences at any moment in any position. Then Asana can come to life.
With every breath the body moves in flexion and extension, this pulsation produces a wave form. In Asana The movements of the body can meet the movements of the breath. When the Yogi is absorbed in the movements this dance is called Citta Vrtti – the fluctuations of the mind stuff. Mind, breath and body unite.
Undoing the patterns of fear and vigilance from body and breath we let go of old emotions and it helps us to arrive where we are. To connect through the senses with the world in time and space.
To play with gravity using our body.
For Yoga to wake us up Asana helps by purifying the emotions imprinted in our muscle’s tension. We hold the patterns in our nerves and muscles.