Purpose of true Asana for the physical body, pranic body, mind and nervous system
The study of the philosophy of yoga helps us to understand the impact of true asana on the physical, pranic body, mind and nervous system. According to Yoga philosophy, it is the consciousness at our very core, which manifests the physical body. The mind is the instrument that creates our karmic or behavioral patterns. Therefore, we can work on the body in the best possible way by understanding consciousness behind it. Much of our consciousness lies beyond ordinary mental awareness. Therefore, the practice of asanas with a clear awareness of the technicalities of the postures and of the mental and emotional states created within us in each pose is recommended. Ayurveda also shares a similar view. The body manifests doshas identified not only as physical, but also as pranic and psychological energies. In other words, doshas not just make an impact at the physical level but also at the psychological level.
Asanas are not just static poses. Asanas should be viewed as manifestations of our deepest consciousness. The more that we can see this within ourselves and our practice, the more we can open terrain for our students. The pose is as important as the attention and energy accompanying a pose. Our psychological state really determines our physical feeling and movement. The form and rhythm of the body is determined in the long term by feelings and energy.
Asana and the Physical Body
Asana or the physical pose at its most basic level is bodily gesture. The shape that body creates in an asana is correlated to specific message and result, since each asana has unique structural impact. Sitting poses for instance give stability in the spine and make the backs of the legs flexible. Most sitting poses are designed to create parasympathetic stimulation resulting in pleasant and peaceful effect. Standing poses on the other hand increase energy levels and strength, uplifting us. Backbends tend to create sympathetic stimulation that open us and excite. In addition, backbends create strength in the trunk muscles and enhance spinal extension. Relaxation exercises are meant to neutralize the energies created by asana practice by soothing and the calming effect.
The experience of an asana varies from individual to individual. All bodies are different in structure, flexibility, and organic pranic condition, and yet the structure of the asana is generally the same for everyone. The asana creates a unique structure, an architectural piece, and whether used individually or in sequence, the asanas are hopefully built in a way that contains the structural energy of the body, and releases frictions or the unhelpful nuts and bolts that are no longer necessary.
Yoga postures increase blood flow to the specific areas of the body and stimulate them with a squeezing action that gently massages the internal organs. The asanas make use of gravity to further increase blood flow to the targeted areas. For example, an inverted pose such as the headstand increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain enhancing its ability to function optimally. The shoulder stand produces an increase in the blood flow to the thyroid gland. With an emphasis on long, deep breathing, oxygen rich blood flows throughout the body. Yoga poses increase flexibility in the spine. This ensures a nervous system connection to all parts of the body because the nerves from the spine extend to all body tissues, organs and glands. The yoga postures are designed to stretch and relax muscles, increase flexibility in the joints and stretch ligaments and tendons. Most asanas work on more than one area of the body at the same time. For example, twisting asanas bring benefits to the spine, adrenal glands, liver, pancreas and kidneys (p336 Olpin & Hesson).
Asana and Pranic body
The physical body may be conceived as a vehicle to define and carry our internal energies identified through prana. Asanas, however go beyond simple physical postures, they actually direct the prana. Asanas should therefore be considered more than the physical postures,rather anasana is a condition of energy. The quality of energy expressed by asanas make an impact on the yoga practitioner whether the poses are quiet or dynamic. They impact the practitioner with the dynamic condition of mind and prana. Asanas may be regarded as neutral in their energetic effects just as a vehicle is neutral in itself but the driver makes the difference to in the way and the speed with which it is driven. If asana is the car, prana is its driving force. The pranic impulse steered into the asana is as important as the asana itself. Therefore, the question is not just about the right vehicle but also about driving it the right way.
In other words, the same asana can have two different results depending on how the prana is directed. A sitting posture for example can have two contrasting effects depending on how the prana is directed. Combined with a strong pranayama, a sitting posture can lead to energizing influence. The same posture with ordinary breathing will make us quiet or even put us to sleep. A number of factors determine the pranic energetics of a posture. Some of these factors include the speed with which the posture is performed, the level of force applied in doing it, and the most important factor is the way we breathe during the performance of the asana. The goal of asana practice is to calm the body. It is in the calm body that prana manifests and that is when we can work on our prana. The sitting poses are designed to calm the body which is why these poses are important for meditation and internal healing.
Affect of Asana on Mind and Nervous System
Asana not only impacts structure and energy but also influences thought and intention. Asana differ from physical exercises in that the asana is thoughtful or mindful form of exercise. The effects of the same asana will be different on two different individuals to the extent determined by whether their mind is clear or cloudy and their emotions are calm or turbulent. You may perform an asana with technical precision, but the liberating influence of the asana on your consciousness depends on your mind. In other words, an asana performed with calm mind and focused attention will leave a more profound influence on your mind and body in comparison with the performance of an asana with divided attention and the agitated state of mind.
There exists a deep relationship between a person’s mental state and breath. In a peaceful and calm state of mind, the breath is remarkably deep and steady but in a state of mental and emotional disturbance, the breath is short and disturbed. This has implication for the performance of yoga asanas and pranayama because mental and pranic energetics are correlated. However, it is possible to change the pranic effect of an asana through breath. It is also possible to change the mental effects of an asana through concentration and meditation. It is best to consider an asana as a kind of meditation in movement or form. Therefore while performing yoga, it is recommended to put your mind into silence with detachment and observation of the mental pattern or wave.
In other words, it is critical to engage your consciousness while practicing yoga asanas, otherwise your practice remains at the superficial level. The real power of the poses lie in the attention we place on the physical sensations they generate. Awareness heals the body, and the intention mends the spirit. Recall that according to the Vedic sages, the physical body is a manifestation of consciousness. We can see our bodies as a crystallization of the mental, emotional and behavioral patterns created by your mind. It is not an exaggeration to say that our life story is recorded in our mind-body. In other words, long term patterns of feeling and behavior determine the form of the body and the distribution of the energy throughout the physiology (Liebler & Moss, 2009).
How we feel on a psychological level is reflected in how we move on a physical level and vice-versa. This is evident in our everyday life. Our body language reflects our sense of self and how we use our energy. A person’s posture speaks about the thought, attention and behavior of that person. What a story a slumping body tells about its overburdened mind! Posture is indeed a reflection of emotion. It is possible to work in reverse, that is, intentionally strike a pose to create an emotion. This is why yoga asanas help us create, unveil and even illuminate. It is therefore important to engage the consciousness during the asana because prana follows the energy of attention.
- Frawley, David. The Ayurvedic Effects of Asana Practice. Accessed July 29, 2013 from http://www.sivanandayogavietnam.org/page/ayurveda_article/en
- Liebler, Nancy; Moss, Sandra. Healing Depression the Mind-body Way Creating Happiness With Meditation, Yoga, and Ayurveda: Epub Edition. John Wiley & Sons Inc 2009.
- Olpin, Michael & Hesson, Margie Stress Management for Life, 3rd ed.2011
Celia Roberts © 2013