Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Yoga is a Language

What never ceases to amaze me about Hatha Yoga is its adaptability. It is comprised of about 200 asanas (according to B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga) that can be combined in seemingly infinite combinations. In this sense, Yoga is a language; it has a vocabulary of 200 “words” that take their meaning from how they are combined and with what dialect they are spoken. A more traditional yogi will see these words as immutable--they should only be used with the proper accent and correct grammar. A inventive practitioner is more flexible with the language and is open to new and unusual definitions of the words. One approach is faithful to the history of yoga; the other keeps it alive and relevant to today’s world.

The beauty of this language is that it benefits and illuminates no matter how it is spoken. Some teaching styles, such as Iyengar and Ashtanga, are exacting in their approach—there are proscribed ways to practice and strict arrangements of the asanas. Other yoga styles, such as Kripalu and Vinyasa, are more fluid and allow students to determine the rhythm and manner of their individual practice. With any of these traditions, you can choose which poses in what sequence fits your day’s mood, energy level, anatomical focus, etc. Depending on what you bracket a particular pose with, it can have a completely different feeling and style. These asana/words are so powerful and affecting that it doesn’t really matter how you choose to interpret them—they will help you focus and center.

So as you continue to deepen and expand your personal practice, keep in mind that you are participating in a dialogue between your body and this ancient art. How you choose to interpret and use this language is entirely up to you and can (should) change on a daily basis so it stays vital and interesting. No approach is better than another, it just depends on what you want and need on that particular day for that particular practice.

Examples of different pronunciations:
Using Trikonasa (Triangle Pose) as an example, note how the feeling of the pose changes depending on how it is approached.
A Formal Approach
1. Step the feet apart 3 ½ to 4 ½ feet, establishing your normal triangle stance.
2. Stretch your arms up overhead, keeping the shoulders away from the ears, and feel the side ribs lift.
3. Lower the arms to shoulder level, but keep the side ribs lifted, noticing the openness and lift in the chest.
4. Now, turn the right foot to the side and the left slightly towards the center. Shift the hips towards the left foot, keeping the arms stretched to the side and still focusing on the lifted ribs.
5. Stretch out and over the right foot, always lifting the ribs, and fold over the right hip into Triangle. (Notice the space you get through the torso with this approach).
6. Repeat on the other side.
A Flow Approach
1a. This time step your feet apart, turn the right foot out and the left foot slightly in. Lift the arms to the side and bend the right knee to come into Virabhadrasanana II (Warrior II). Hold for a couple of breaths.
2a. Now fold the right arm and hinge from the right hip towards the right thigh and rest the forearms on the thigh. Stretch your left arm overhead and twist the torso and head toward the sky, moving into Parsvakonasana (Lateral Angle Pose). Again, hold for a few breaths.
3a. From Lateral Angle, straighten the right leg and extend the right arm, reaching for the shin. Move the left arm back to center and twist the torso and head to look at the left hand. Now you are in Trikonasana (Triangle). Breathe a bit, and then come back up to center. Turn the feet back to center and lower the arms. (Notice the feeling of fluidity as you smoothly move from pose to pose. Enjoy the feeling of connection between these different poses as you experience their similarities and differences).
4a. Repeat on the other side. ©Brenda K. Plakans. All Rights Reserved.

No comments: