Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Art of Asana

I had a newer student ask a very good question the other day in the Yoga class I was teaching.  Basically, she wanted to know if I “made up” the postures (or more specifically, the sequencing) as the class progressed or did I have a list of poses that we worked from.  I smiled.  As we were folding forward in Parsvottanasana, I attempted to convey that there is a method to the sequencing of the Asana (postures) but I also observe what my students need for that class and then adapt accordingly.  If my students were fatigued, I would not choose to put them through Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) which is a rigorous series of postures used to greet the morning and to wake up the body.  If I made the mistake of overworking my already tired students then most of those students would not come back to next week’s class.  How could you blame them?

Sequencing was something that I studied in the books of the Iyengars.  B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, and Geeta Iyengar, Yoga:  A Gem for Women, were the two books I studied before and after the classes I taught in the early days eleven years ago.  Father and daughter, respectively, who are masters of a discipline that has allowed me to become a better person as well as teacher.  If you want to know something about how to sequence your asanas then I suggest not only studying those books but also practicing their sequences.  It is through performing the postures, or asana, that you become aware of the profound influence of the masters of Yoga and sequencing.

Without divulging names, I have attended a workshop where the Senior Iyengar teacher had us perform a long backbend backbend series.  His method getting the body prepared for backbending wasn’t the problem.  His teaching has always been fun and informative.  But because of the lack of time at the end of the class, we didn’t do any counter poses to either soften the arch that we created in the back nor did we even cool down the nervous system.  What that meant for me was probably the worst Savasana (Corpse Pose) I have ever experienced.  I was lying on my back with my eyes closed and even though I just did a very strenuous Yoga class, my eyes were darting back and forth behind closed lids.  I was not relaxed!

Please note that the backbending class was early on my Yoga path so I also did not have the tools and the knowledge available to me now.  If I were to attend such a class now, I definitely would do something like Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall) with either a block or bolster after such a strong series of postures.  I would expect that my mind would be very Vata-like, so I would keep my eyes open and my breath cooling.  I would also choose not to teach such a class to my students.   

So sequencing does matter but so does listening to your body.  If that is the lesson that you receive from Yoga, then you are truly blessed!


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