This is the seventh post in a series called Principles of Asana, looking at how to skillfully apply discernment and wisdom in our poses and in our practice. Catch the previous posts here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Last week we talked about how bringing an attitude of curiosity to your practice can bring you an expansive, rather than contracted, energy. The first question I ask myself when I get stumped in my yoga practice is “What happens when...?,” and this can crack open a practice calcified by perfectionism. But this week I want to delve deeper than the questions of “What?” and get to the “Why?” of asana, and ultimately, of yoga.
The question I use for this “Why?” portion is “What is the intended effect of...?” For example, What is the intended effect of the pose? Or what is the intended effect of this instruction?, ie,
WHY are we doing this thing in this way?
I’ve written previously about this practice of inquiry and how it helps to dismantle dogmatic systems and thinking. Rather than getting stuck in attempting to perform the poses rigorously and by rote, copping to an external authority that tells us both what to do and how to do it, instead we can gain an internal guidance that offers us insight into what your body needs in the moment you’re engaging with it.
Further, it allows you a deeper understanding of what your instructor is teaching, so that you’re not just following along blindly, but engaging with nuance and intelligence.
So when your yoga teacher cues a particular pose, you can start to investigate both what’s happening in your body when you do the asana in the way it’s being instructed, and then also attempt to comprehend why your teacher is teaching it that way.
For instance, if I cue Triangle Pose and my intention is to prepare the body for Half Moon Pose, I might emphasize the alignment of the hips and shoulders in Triangle Pose (because it’s much harder to maintain when you’re on one leg in Half Moon) over trying to get the bottom hand closer to the floor (which would emphasize the opening of the front leg more and would be better prep for say, Bird of Paradise Pose).
So the intended effect of that particular Triangle Pose would be to align the hips and shoulders.
So you, as a student can then assess if the pose is creating the intended effect. You can ponder: is the intended effect something that’s actually useful to me? If it is useful but it’s not happening, what might you shift in your pose to bring about the intended effect? Following the Triangle Pose example, you might bring your bottom hand up the front leg more to allow the shoulders to stack over the pelvis more. What other adjustments might you make?
To recap, the five questions are:
What is the actual effect of the pose I’m practicing or the way I’m practicing it?
What is the intended effect of this pose (or this instruction, this sequence, etc.)?
Is the intended effect happening?
Is the intended effect something that is interesting or useful to me and my body?
Is there a way to shift my pose to create the intended effect?
This is how we create an individual and intelligent yoga practice.
I’d love to hear from you! Do these questions make sense? What else do you ask yourself when you’re practicing? How else can we bring curiosity and inquiry into the asana practice? Let me know what you’re thinking about!