Efforting in Asana
We have been describing asana in the classic sense in the previous post Part 3. The Yoga Sutras emphasizes the effect of the asana not the particulars of how to do the asana.
One of the problems here is too much mis-applied efforting. For the beginner there are two main problems. One is creating too much effort in trying to do the pose of ones teacher. The idea of working with our selves and our limitations as a beginner naturally will restrict what we do and how we can perform the asana. Here lies the main issue of this first problem.
We try too hard to accomplish and perform like someone else. We need to reconsider this over eager nature to arrive at the end when we are only at the beginning.
The other or second problem of efforting is avoiding all necessary effort at the beginning. This mis-placed idea that we can accomplish something at the start by simply relaxing into it and arriving at effortless effort is complete balderdash. (for 99.9% of us)–It’s funny how so many of us think they we are in the 0.1%. It takes years of hard work for any performer or artist to master their skills and arts. This second point is only mentioned and will be discussed in other articles/posts.
Construction of an Asana
Much of the variety of poses/asanas are taught from a picture. We then try to replicate the picture of a very skilled practitioner with ourselves. Most of us start as beginners (hopefully we all do–the beginners mind is lauded but not practiced). If we are following the codifier of yoga–Patanjali and his Sutras on Yoga–we must work in a different way.
Our work is premised on creating stability and ease over much time and practice (I would posit years and decades of work–you know the 10,000 hour example?). So the lead in our practice is not to twist and force ourselves into an image of another. Our main work is to identify the direction of the asana and then slowly develop our capacity to move in that direction. The end range of one person is going to be very different from another.
That means those who are too stiff cannot reach their toes, let alone bring their nose to their knees, ughhh! Also for someone who is overly flexible and unstable they also should not move (maybe?) their knee to their nose in standing. The latter example would be someone who was unable to make their trunk sufficiently stiff and stable when standing on one leg. You can see them overusing and over bending in their spine because of their lack of trunk and pelvis stability. They often create extreme hinge places (often spinal areas) where excessive/hypermobility occurs.
Again please refer to the previous post to review some of the major movement concepts to consider in constructing an asana.
Starting an Asana
A good way to start to work with asana is to pay attention to three main things (there are many others)
- What is moving
- Where is the movement coming from
- What is the primary direction for the asana
Direction or Plane of Movement of the Asana
Here is a short video on some common movement problems in a simple Konasana or side bending posture. We will look mainly at problems of not staying in the intended plane of motion and improper breathing. You will see that side bending movement is leaked into spinal extension because of this over efforting in trying to do the asana. In this case the person has a tight shoulder when they raise their arm over their head. They substitute in the sagittal plane (or spinal extension) when they can no longer keep raising there arm higher in the coronal or frontal plane of side bending.
Also we will briefly look at how one tends to change their breathing pattern because of the change in the respiratory diaphragms orientation of the central tendon=the center, non-muscular part of the dome of the diaphragm.
Let’s look at one of the video frames from the side view. The substitution of a tight shoulder here is to add spinal extension.
This hyper extension substitution is very common. The balance of the trunk stability has been offset by this over effort in extension. No longer are you emphasizing the side bending information flows/prana. You are now doing another backward bending asana combined with under use of the front of the body and over use of the back of the body. Can you see that there is distorted type of balance in this asana. (This means balance of the activity of the front and back side of the body). Yet looking at ourselves from the front we are quite pleased that our mental picture has raised our arm WAY over our heads.
We even begin to feel that this sensation is more erect and “better”. Many people spend a lot of time defending it. If you choose to do it this way, fine. Just know what it is that you are doing. The feeling of being straight is no longer accurate. We now equate the feeling of hyperextension with marked inhibition of our anterior trunk as a good normal straight position.
Just think and feel what it does to our breathing. The diaphragm is no longer centrated. That means the central tendon or domed area of the diaphragm is no longer facing downwards towards the pelvis. It is facing a bit towards the anterior aspect of the body.
The style of breathing that is encouraged here is belly breathing. In this altered hyperextended posture, the back extensor muscles now become involved in the act of breathing, instead of primarily the diaphragm. Also the inhibition of the anterior trunk muscles reinforces both the back leaning posture and the altered breathing mechanics.
Here is a picture of a diaphragm that is centrated (not totally accurate but a picture just to help anyway)
This type of centrated diaphragmatic breathing is called three dimensional breathing in some schools. It is because the container of the diaphragm has more even tension front to back and all around. The dimension of expansion and contraction is also superior and inferior, as well as the others. This centrated diaphragm is extremely important for proper activation of the pelvic floor in a spontaneous “mula-root bandha-lock. Also many neuro-reflexive and pranic events are activated with this centrated breath.