Performing an Asana
What is an Asana?
The asanas are only one portion of a Yoga practice, that provides evident feedback that we are practitioners of Yoga. Out of the 8 limbs of Yoga, this is the most sought after, most popular expression of a Yoga practice.
As Yoga came to the Western world, the asanas took a popularity gain as photos of postures are shared all over social media. Left behind are the other limbs of a Yogic practice that involves your whole well-being. In essence, a Yoga practice is comprised of principles that help a practitioner master his/her mind, adopt a certain behavior, attune to the body and further develop other disciplines.
Yogasanas are prescribed to be practised a certain way. In the book Light On Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar, up to 27 cautions and hints were listed. Among which are suggestions for taking a bath before and after practice, to practice after emptying the bowels or 3-4 hours after the last meal, to practice in the morning when the mind is fresh even when the body is still stiff, to avoid practising in the open, and to always practice on an even surface (preferrably on a blanket or a mat).
The sequences with which you can also perform Yogasanas are also of importance. Anatomy plays a big role in the chaining of poses. Also of essence is the time of day when you choose to practice; and the time of month for women.
Before the Asana
It is recommended to clear your practice space and prepare for practice mentally. Notice that I have been referring to this as "practice" since the beginning. The reason for this is that an asana simply cannot be done on its own.
While it's quite famous even on instagram to just "stop, drop and yoga", it might be counter intuitive to do this for a beginner. Those who have been practising on a daily basis, might find it easy (if not entirely harmful) to just execute one pose for a click of a photo to post on social media.
Without proper warm-up of different muscle groups needed for a pose, or if not both sides were done, it would cause an imbalance in your body. Take time to do a couple of Sun Salutations before warming up different body parts that are important for the asana involved.
In specific example, hanumanasana or popularly called the splits, would require strong activated core, warm glutes and of course, warm hamstrings. Just diving into the pose might be faster, but it defeats the most important part of Yoga: mindfulness.
Getting into the Asana
When everything is set, getting into the asana will need some careful sequencing too to ensure that the body is warm and ready to execute the asana. In essence, warming is needed to prevent damage to the body, as damage may not be immediately evident, but it can compound to something aggravating if habitually done. Again, this is quite the opposite of harboring mindfulness.
As the spine traverses and connects the biggest sections of the body, it makes sense that warmth will travel through this highway and reach out to the extremities of the body. The different Sun Salutation versions are really effective ways to quickly build up heat in the body. If you're feeling low on energy though, doing series of Bitilasana (cow pose) and Marjaryasana (cat pose) will help increase mobility and heat with less movements.
Another reason why sequencing is important is to prevent causing instability to different parts of the body during practice. Read: Avoid doing transitions of Warrior 1 to Warrior 2 and vice versa! It causes instability and imbalance to your pelvic area.
Lastly, once you've executed your asana and took a nice photo of it, remember to do it as well on the other side, even if it means having to do the entire sequence again to properly prepare the other side.
All done? Let's practice and have fun! And when you're in your asana, hold for a few breaths and don't forget to smile! 😉