Updated: Nov 21, 2020
Yoga encourage us to be fully present, with the breath, the body and the mind. It's a such a simple idea but not necessarily an easy one to cultivate on a continual basis. We are creatures of action and being in the moment doesn't come easily.
While meditation is a great way to execute this dark art of being rather than doing, when we leave the comfort of our sukasana (cross legged pose) and release the mudra (hand gesture) we quickly fall back into our old active ways. As we move into the physical practice of asana one of the ways we can try to maintain a present focus is to pay more attention to the transitions that arise between poses.
Moving from one asana to another it's easy to be spontaneously carried towards the destination alone and to miss a unique opportunities for the self-knowledge that is trying so hard to offer itself to us. Like many teachers I try to offer cues not just to get students into a pose but also to give them suitable physical and esoteric guidance for coming out and similarly for preparing before moving into the next pose. This may be as simple as grounding the back heel, drawing navel to spine and inhaling as you raise the torso from Parsvottanasana (pyramid pose) or it may be a call to truly notice what changes occur as you rotate the raised hip to parallel from Vrkshasana (tree pose) before returning it to the earth - that wonderful moment when you become aware you're about to return to the security of having two feet on the ground but you still have to maintain balance because you're not actually there yet! Some transitions are actually quite tricky and if not performed with full conscious awareness have the potential to result in injury - moving from one plane of movement to another is particular risky and should be avoided whenever possible; allanasana (high lunge) to virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2) potentially compromises the hip joint and ardha chandrasana (half moon) to virabhadrasana 3 (warrior 3) is definitely one to avoid unless hip replacement is your goal!
Our egoic desire to achieve the final pose, to move our bodies in ways which make us feel powerful regardless of how good those movements are for us, can be a real enemy when it comes to protecting ourselves. So that self knowing that arises from our continued presence allows us to observe when we naturally tend to do this - it's often those poses we know we can execute well; Adho Muka Vrkshasana (handstand) is definitely one of mine. As a result I now try and spend longer in the prep stages and I make myself kick up with the less easy leg - it's tough! My desire is to be balancing upside down is strong, but the increased connection of which muscles are doing the work (and which ones should be helping out, the stabilising muscles which are better designed to work without fatiguing so quickly!) not to mention my attachment to the goal now override this desire time and time again.
This deeper awareness of how we behave, how we act or react is what we are really trying to cultivate through yoga. And instead of perpetuating these aspects which arise in our usual mode of rushing around, multi-tasking, skimming over the detail and moving as efficiently as possible onto the next important thing we need to get done, we suddenly get this amazing opportunity to become aware of each intrinsic part. The energetic qualities of prana (vital life force) flowing inside, the biomechanical structures of the physical body that facilitate the incredible things our body can do and the mental processes that arise as a result of the combined effects of the practice are all highlighted.
Our focused concentration creates full attention to each moment - and the moments in between. Awareness then turns into something of a journey hugging exercise. It allows us to begin to really appreciate and know ourselves. When we cast our attention fully onto something we automatically tend to make subtle alterations which naturally create ease, stability and a great deal more of a joyful experience - from moment to moment to moment and beyond.
Sat Nam x