In the West, yoga is most strongly associated with the sequencing of physical postures. The Sanskrit word for ‘posture’ is asana, literally ‘to take one’s seat’. Practicing asana is just one aspect of yoga which, simply put, is a way of yoking the mind and body together, of integrating our experience and making us whole. There are many different practices in yoga from study to meditation to observing social codes of conduct to the practice of the physical postures. And asanas are, indeed, a very good place to start.
When we first approach the asanas, though, we can often over complicate things and make unnecessary demands on yoga, and on ourselves. I notice that I often feel the pressure to launch into a well-thought out and intelligently crafted sequence for a set length of time, 45 minutes or an hour, say. Yet approaching practice in this way I feel not only a sense of bracing, but I also find that the yoga gets swept up in fast pace of my day. I bring all the busy-ness of life into the business of doing yoga.
Rather than diving and crashing onto our mats what if we were to take a gentler approach? An experienced surfer pauses on the shore before entering the ocean. Sitting or standing, they will watch the water from a distance, discern where the waves are breaking, and in what direction, tune into the rhythm of the sea, and look for subtle signs of currents of which they will be mindful when navigating their way through the surf. Taking time in this way, by giving the ocean their attention, a surfer is able to relax into challenges of the day’s surf with a greater understanding and awareness of their environment.
Instead of running full pelt onto our mats and straight out into the unsung waters of our practice then, we would do well to pause and take time to familiarise ourselves with the conditions. To begin by taking our seat.
Sitting, noticing how we feel in our bodies, in ourselves, we can observe thoughts, physical sensations, feeling tones. We sit and wait, we watch the waves of our experience roll in, and roll out. Gradually – and for me, this is after about 10 to 15 minutes – we may sense a gradual loosening or letting go. Our bodies then start to instigate movement, there is no need for coercion, discipline or planning. Freer and less bound by our previous state of purposeful activity, and with less effort and less striving, we can let our bodies guide us into a sequence of asanas that arise spontaneously from within the space we have created. A space in which the yoga can unfold. We then ‘take our seat’ in a new position, inviting steadiness and comfort with each pose, whether standing on our heads or lying on our backs.
So please, take your seat. It’s an easy way into yoga that’s all too easy to overlook. When it comes to practicing the asanas, fast and complex is no match for slow and simple. The former may look flash but the latter is pure gold.