Griffins Hill Retreat yoga and food blog
Between Asanas (yoga poses)
By Frank Jesse
Asanas (Yoga poses) began centuries ago as a practice to prepare the mind and body for meditation. Keeping this in mind can help yoga students to overcome a common problem in the early years of their practice – maintaining focus during the transition in and out of yoga asanas.
When we start yoga, many of us are unused to focusing on anything for a long period of time – we face many distractions in our day-to-day lives.
Even keeping ourselves focused during a yoga pose can be difficult. However, the teacher’s instructions and the challenge of aligning the body in unfamiliar ways help keep us in the present moment.
The instant the teacher says ‘release’, however, students tend to collapse both physically and mentally – the action is over, and so we slump back into our usual distracted state!
But yoga is both action and reflection; without reflection, we are not practicing yoga.
Maintaining focus is one of the reasons that the process of transitioning into and out of a yoga asana is so important.
Safety is another important reason.
Safety in yoga practice
There are some risks when we move into and out of yoga poses that we might fall or twist or otherwise injure ourselves, especially in the more advanced poses such as Sirsasana (headstand) and Sarvangasana (shoulder stand). Sudden movements between poses, such as standing up from an inversion, can make us disorientated and dizzy.
Yoga is a powerful practice. Practicing yoga asanas has a strong effect on our muscles, organs, and hormonal systems as well as our minds. A practitioner who respects this is careful and mindful as they transition between poses.
So, how to we improve our ability to transition mindfully in and out of poses?
I suggest starting with observation. How do you transition now? Are you anxious to rush into or out of a pose? What is going on in your mind as you release – relief, frustration, or impatience?
Once we start to gain awareness of our tendencies – through reflection – we can start to take action to address any tendency to rush. Are we taking time to carefully prepare ourselves for a posture, not just putting our bodies into the right position, but adjusting our attitude to one of effortless effort, and keeping our breathing calm and quiet throughout? Do we exit the posture with grace and care?
Understanding the role of transitional postures can help, too. After Sirsasana, which can be held for 20 minutes or more, it is especially important to spend some time in transition poses such as Adho Mukha Virasana (forward bend), Adho Mukha Svanasana (dog pose) and Uttanasana (standing forward bend) before standing up.
After Sarvangasana, one can gently transition through Halasana (plough pose), Karnapidasana (pressure on ear pose) and, finally, lie on your back for a few moments before rolling to one side and sitting up.
Returning to Tadasana (mountain pose) between standing poses, and to Dandasana (staff pose) between forward bends also helps by returning to a more familiar asana and gives a reference point to work from.
Breathing is another way to maintain focus by moving into the posture on an out-breath and out of the posture on an in breath
The rewards of staying focused
There is a lovely timelessness that develops when we stay focused throughout our yoga practice. We become quiet and fully immersed in what we are doing, and can get deeply into the experience – the position of the body, the breathing, the state of your mind – as we move slowly and purposefully into and out of poses.
When we set the timer, and can’t wait for each posture to finish, it means our minds are not focused. Time goes slowly.
In a restorative practice, the supported poses help us to stay even longer. We can savour the essence of the pose, and we do not break that thread of absorption as we move from one to another.
Action and reflection: these are the essential elements of yoga, and when we practice both, we start to attain focus, stay safe and experience a sense of timelessness.
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