“Goal of Liberation, Goal of Freedom.” Yoga Master Teacher Sharat Arora
Practicing asana with the correct foundation and alignment allows students to progress safely and to advance on a path towards balance and freedom at a quicker pace. If your roots are crooked then misalignment occurs and injury on a physical level as well as imbalance on a mental and energetic level can happen. The importance of having ‘active feet’, having aligned foundations, symmetry in the pelvis and making sure that the spine operates at 90 degrees to the earth, which is the natural gravitational force of the spine (earth connection), are all vital ingredients in the asana practice. When there is awareness, space, stability and alignment in these areas, one can achieve harmony and union in all places of the body and experience stillness in the mind.
It is wonderful to use props. We use props constantly in the modern world that we live in to make life more comfortable and easy. It is not going backwards, it’s actually leaping forwards. The cushions, use of chairs or stools, blankets, blocks, belts, all help to gain balance and comfort faster. Instead of walking on the journey, you take a vehicle and arrive quicker. The various props are a vehicle to get to the destination faster. What is our destination when we do the postures? Balance and Harmony. It’s only worth doing the poses if the goal and intention is balance and harmony. Otherwise it’s called gymnastics. Yes, it may work on the body because the asana moves all the muscles and flow of blood, but it doesn’t go beyond that. It doesn’t even go beyond to any mental transformation.
BKS Iyengar’s discovery of using props for alignment, relaxation and healing is a gift to us all. By taking support and appropriate comfort you send messages to the body and mind of working with kindness and working in unison, instead of forcing the body into shapes and postures. The body responds to this gentle approach. In Hatha Yoga the body is used as a tool to modify consciousness and still the mind of disturbances. When full and detailed attention is given to correct alignment, the safe and desired result can be achieved without causing any physical or mental harm to the practitioner. How we behave in an asana class, how we align ourselves when we sit or stand, how we prepare or replace the props directly is linked to how we behave in our everyday lives. Everything is connected. The art of using yoga props helps a practitioner not only in learning correct alignment but also how to completely relax and surrender – the reflective (MOON) component of Hatha Yoga. Be aligned and straight always.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there is a very important statement about how to practice the asana. “Sthira Sukham Asanam” – Yoga asana needs to be steady, stable and comfortable in order for it to be defined as asana. The correct usage of props ensures that a practitioner, no matter what their level of physical and mental health, age or stiffness can achieve stability, safety and comfort in the postures, and can spend enough time in the poses to work deeper into the energetic body and mind.
If we force or push the physical body into a pose we are operating in strong action, SUN / Yang energy. It’s directly connected to the mind craving action – the act of doing. All activity and thought has its birth in the mind. Rather observe, be patient and allow it to happen naturally with the breath. Working rather with the body in its own time and rhythm, allows more opening, flexibility and energetic shifts to occur. So long as you feel you are the doer in yoga practice, there can be no peace.
All the various postures have different impacts and benefits on certain parts of the physical body as well as the mental and energetic state of the practitioner. Once a student knows how to tailor the self practice according to what they require at any given point in their life, they can manage their time and schedule according to what is needed. Every day is different and as the path towards balance and healing unfolds, the practice will continue to evolve. At all stages on the path, however, it is vital that the asana must always bring about a feeling of complete space on all levels in the body and mind. Practice to remove tightnesses and tensions, not create them. The practice is intended to create space and freedom always. In summary – Doing the standing poses on a daily basis makes the bones and muscles harmonious and healthy. They help to build solid foundations and a deeper understanding of connecting to the earth. Inversions restore, rejuvenate and encourage deep self reflection and quiet time. Twists, forward bends and backbends keep the spine young, healthy and mobile. Doing daily self practice with an inward focus brings more awareness and mindfulness to a student if the foundations are understood and kept aligned.
“Be quiet, go within, go inside & watch, just watch!” Sharat Arora
What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill? How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just be? Through the practice of Yoga and Meditation we learn how to incorporate this reflective and relaxed approach into life. Yoga is more than a practice in physical movement, it is an all-round development to bring about internal harmony and balance with our external surroundings and bring about a feeling of complete space. Asana and Meditation both work on eradicating physical and mental boundaries and impurities and things that limit one from living a blissful, happy life. Through the discipline of Yoga practice, we start to identify and remove these obstacles. The process of dropping and letting go is the same, but we first have to see it and accept it before we can dissolve it. As Papaji wisely said – “You have to decide right now to be free once and for all. Everyone who has found freedom in this lifetime has had to make this decision.”
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre
Yoga Master Teacher Sharat Arora,
December 2015, Arambol, North Goa, India