To make a short story long, I am a newly minted yoga teacher with a lot of curiosity. I am interested in continuing to explore the mind-body connection. In my day job, I work as a clinical social worker. I moonlight as a yoga teacher and by teacher I mean that I use my own practice to learn. I am also beginning to teach private yoga lessons. I enjoy working with others, therapeutically. I am also a “self-determinationist.” I don’t think that’s a real term… yet. I believe that we aren’t this or that or the other unless we self-determine so. Labels are inaccurate until the labeled has determined it a fit. Social constructionism is a big topic with many layers. I enjoy peeling the layers back and seeing what lies underneath.
When we think of yoga in the west, we often think of asana. Asana (a.k.a. posture) is only 1 limb of yoga. In Rāja yoga, Patanjali writes about “the 8 limbed path.” Asana is an external limb that prepares the student for internal work. Specifically, asana helps to develop body awareness and an ability to disengage from external stimuli, improves concentration and facilitates meditation.
The eight limbs of yoga are as follows:
Yama : Social ethics
Niyama : Personal practices
Asana : Physical postures
Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
Pratyahara : Sensory withdrawal
Dharana : Concentration and cultivating internal awareness
Dhyana : Meditation
Samadhi : Nondualistic state of consciousness
If we look at the 8 limbed path as a machine (that’s probably sacrilege but let’s just run with this analogy for a second), we see that limbs 1-4 are external (things that we can “do”.) Limbs 4-8 are internal (require stillness and an ability to let go and simply “be”) In this machine, yamas and niyamas are aspirations and behaviors, asana is posture and pranayama is controlled breath. All of these limbs require “doing.” Limbs 4-8: Pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi, all require “being.”
I would propose that one reason that we attach so strongly to asana is because it’s a moving part, something that we can control. It’s much easier to “do” than to “be”. Quieting our body and quieting our mind can be challenging (or even terrifying) in the context of our hyper stimulated culture. We are constantly both consciously and unconsciously being inundated with messages about who we are and who we should be. When the body begins to still, the mind has the propensity to race.
This is a drawing of my dog.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is founded upon the connection between thoughts, emotions and behaviors. In CBT we talk about how by developing awareness of our thoughts, emotions and behaviors, we can begin to respond to external events rather than react to them. We can do this by becoming aware of our automatic thoughts (<— seriously, check out this link) and then can ask ourselves whether or not these thoughts are an accurate response to what occurred. If the answer is no, we can change our perception which will directly impact our emotional response. This awareness disrupts the automaticity of our (often maladaptive) cognitive patterns.
Many therapists are now incorporating “body” into the CBT model, drawing awareness to the physical sensations elicited by thoughts, emotions and behaviors. This is to say that the body is impacted by our cognitive patterns. Just as the body is attentive to the brain, the brain is attentive to the body.
We can work from the inside out AND/OR the outside in!
Asana, when practiced with awareness of breath and mind, can have a profound impact on our sense of self, our sense of being connected to the universe around us and an ability to “be” still.
I would argue that there is not one limb that is more important than another. Once we start assigning value to the limbs, we miss the point.
Yoga is awesome. All of it. While I stand by that statement, in this blog, I will (mostly) be singling out asana.
I told you I was going to make a short story long. Now, to make a long story short, I will be using this blog to explore and comment on my experience of asana as a vehicle to delve deeper into an understanding of the physical postures in my body and to examine my response to these postures. With each asana, I will comment on the following:
other psychological reactions (imagery, narrative, etc.):
other physical sensations:
Mini Sequence (to move into and out of this posture)
*Note that the mini sequences that I come up with are sequences that feel good in my body. Safety and intention are my biggest priorities. I’m not as concerned with “rules” set forth my different “brands” of yoga. Please practice with caution. Respect your body. New bodies are hard to come by.
Of course I will sprinkle in a dusting of curiosities from the other 7 limbs, the intersection of yoga and psychology and musings from my life off the mat. As is the trajectory of life, we start at “point A” with a specific destination in mind, but often “point B” is not what we expected. Your guess of where this blog will go is as good as mine! I’m so glad you’re along for the ride!
“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf” -Jon Kabat-Zinn