This past July, while at a teacher training in Cambridge, MA with my teachers I heard one of them make the following statement: “The primary action in almost every asana is the full extension of the spine.” Something about those words pricked my ears and my consciousness and I have been using that statement as a point of dharana in my practice and teaching.
Today, while doing drop backs (from Tadasana into Urdhva Dhanurasana and standing back up again), these words rang in my ears. I began to take the physical actions with my feet, legs, hands and arms that I had learned would supported that magical phrase, “full extension” and it was here that attention began to expand into awareness.
When I observed my lumbar spine shortening I traced the cause not only down to the foundation of the asana, but up to the pinnacle. There were many clues to the source of this loss of fullness in the lumbar spine: the soles of the feet shrinking, the inner legs collapsing, the buttocks contracting, the sternum sinking, the trapezius lifting.
I heard my teacher’s voice telling me to “Go beyond the body” and then there was a shift; from the outer body, what Guruji Iyengar calls the “bahiranga” to the inner body, or “antaranga”. What is happening mentally when I am not feeling “full” or “extended”? What emotions do these mental impressions create? The answer was simple: I didn’t have faith in the thousands of hours of sadhana that had brought me to this point in time and fear was causing this loss of fullness and lack of extension. To put it more bluntly, I didn’t believe in myself, but yet I had practiced this asana before countless times.
Somehow, I had not allowed the fact that this pose was now part of my repertoire to extend itself into a belief in that truth. In the first chapter of the Yoga Sutra Patanjali gives “anavasthitatvani”, or inability to maintain the ground achieved as an obstacle to Yoga. Here I was experiencing this obstacle physically (spinal contraction), mentally (lack of faith due to poor memory) and emotionally (fear). My training taught me to ask myself directly, “Is what I am experiencing true for me or are these thoughts coming from outdated voices?”
The practice of Yoga is a darshana, a spiritual path that graces us with “viveka” or discernment, and the ability to see ourselves in the light of the truth. When I was able to trust my “angas” or arms and legs, and let go of the fear in my mind the rhythmic beauty of the asana revealed itself and, as the Bhagavad Gita states, the Yoga became both “skill in action” and “eveness of mind.”
OM Tat Sat,