Basic Fundamentals of Asana Practice

The simplicity of the yoga method

The simplicity of asana is often obscured by strenuous effort to attain a pose, misguided instruction that implies that each part of the body is separate and equally misguided notions to control the breath.
The simplicity of yoga flowers in the midst of surrender and an effortless flow that unifies the practitioner on all levels…. Breath, body and mind.

The external shape of the body varies from posture to posture but no matter what posture is being practiced four fundamental principles applied simultaneously and constantly offer a simple method for the teaching of and the practice of yoga asana. Once this method is fully understood and integrated into the way asana is performed one can move through any style of yoga practice in a simple, safe and effective way.

The Four Fundamental Principles of asana practice are:
1. The Foundation
2. The Core
3. The Bandhas
4. The Breath

The Foundation

The Foundation of Asana practice

The Foundation of Asana practice

Those parts of the body that are in contact with the floor are actively against the floor evenly. This grounding of the foundation of a posture is the rock upon which everything else stands. Without it the postures depend on the utilization of uneven and excessive muscular activity that can strain rather than release the muscles. Grounding the foundation evenly requires that the weight of the body is spread evenly across the entire surface of the foundation. When the foundation is evenly grounded there is an equal and opposite action upwards and outwards into the spine and the lungs.

When the foundation is the feet body-weight is distributed evenly between the two feet, between the balls of the feet and between the inner and outer edges of the feet. This means that the four corners of the feet are dynamically and equally grounded: the balls of the big and little toes and the inner and outer heels. When the foundation is only one foot, the same principles and process apply.

When the foundation is only the hands (handstand) the principle is exactly the same. Body-weight is distributed evenly between the two hands, between the bases of the fingers and the heels of the hands, and between both sides of each hand. When the foundation is the hands and the feet, or one and one foot: principles and process remain the same.

This consistency covers all the postures. There are no exceptions. Only when the foundation is evenly grounded can the spine and lungs be balanced and stable. No matter whether we are vertical or horizontal, upright or inverted, sitting or squatting, even and stable support for the spine and lungs depends on an even and active foundation. This gives us the stability that is the foundation of asana or yoga posture.

Our first concern in any posture is to be clear about what the foundation is. If we put anything else on the floor the posture will be distorted, and not deliver its potential. It may even result in injury. This especially likely in inverted postures. If we place ourselves incorrectly in the shoulder-stand we may put pressure on the vertebrae that causes discomfort and even injury. Of course it may be that we do not have the capacity to avoid this. Then we must be honest, focused, open and generous to ourselves by not imposing our ambitions on our limitations. Instead we must go back and develop our capacity in other accessible postures.

When we know what the foundation is then we can use it support the rest of the body evenly and easily giving us the possibility of comfortable stability. This does not happen by magic, it requires effort. We must engage the foundation actively into the floor. Not just at the beginning of the posture but throughout. This is not always easy. As we continue to arrange the various parts of our body into the shape of the posture, we can forget about the foundation. Then it can only too easily lose its even, active supporting quality. Then the arrangement of the rest of our body will be inaccurate and imbalanced and may lead to stress and strain rather than comfort and stability. For the front of the body to be comfortable and stable, the front of the foundation must be actively grounded, without tension or strain. For the back of the body to be comfortable and stable, the back of the foundation must be actively grounded, without tension or strain etc etc. If one aspect of the body is not supported by its foundation it will become lazy, while its counterpart will be overworked.

For example, if the front foot takes more weight in an asymmetrical standing posture such as one of the triangle or warrior postures, this creates problems. The muscles in the back leg do not activate fully its groin does not release, and the hip is not supported. The thigh muscles of the front leg overwork and become unstable, or the leg gives and hyper-extends at the knee if the leg is straight. Then the spine distorts forward, creating tension in the trunk, and restricts the breath. But when the weight is kept even between the feet then the back leg works more fully, the front leg is not stressed, and the spine is supported evenly front and back, so the lungs move more freely and easily.

Soon we will tell you abou the core of the Asana practice.

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