How to structure a yoga asana practice
Learn how to sequence a balanced yoga asana practice.
Knowing how to sequence an asana class is important for many reasons, the main one being safety. There are some key aspects to always take in consideration to gradually take the body into the journey of HA THA - union of the dual energies, the feminine and masculine. Regardless if the class has a theme or not, balance between the two should always be a key priority. This means that we activate the sympathetic nervous system with the more dynamic and active asanas, and also cool down with more passive asanas, which focuses on the parasympathetic nervous system.
The following structure does not apply for yin and restorative yoga practices since they only focus on passive asanas.
Let’s look at some key aspects to take in consideration for creating an asana sequence.
IS THERE A THEME?
It is useful to consider if the class will focus on a specific theme to understand the type of asanas to include more of. For example, if the theme is about the heart chakra, then the focus would probably be more on chest and shoulder opening followed by introspective asanas. If the theme is about strength and mental focus, perhaps there will be some Vinyasas, arm balances, plank etc.
Before we begin moving on the mat, it is essential to focus on our breath. The breath is the fuel to our physical existence; it moves the prana, the life force, so we need to come to a regular breathing cycle. This can be done in Sukhasana, taking a few deep breaths in and exhaling completely. Nadi Shodhana pranayama can also be practiced for grounding and creating balance between Ida and Pingala nadis, the left and right brain hemispheres. Most pranayama practices are suitable bring awareness to the breath and prana flow.
Regardless what style of asana practice we do, in my opinion, warming up the joints is super important. It can be a gentle and quick joint mobilisation focusing in the neck, shoulders, wrists and ankles to introduce slow and gentle movement to the joints.
In my opinion, sun salutations are very useful to include in most practices (exception being yin and restorative yoga). Surya Namaskar helps to warm up the body, regulates the breath and helps us become more focused. A specific number of rounds is not required, practice as many as you wish and fits within your time. Surya Namaskar can be considered a practice on its own as well.
SET THE FOUNDATION
As we dive into our practice, it is useful to create set a strong foundation with some of the standing asanas. These activate Muladhara, the root chakra which is the energy centre of balance. Many of the standing asanas also open the hips so they are ideal as they provide the perfect energetic combination of stability and flow.. Some of them, like the Virabhadrasanas, also activate Manipura chakra (solar plexus) so they can help to further focus the mind and develop a sense of will-power and self-belief.
STEADY BEFORE BENDING
A very important aspect to consider is that before we start any back-bending asanas, we must first do the ground work. We need to be steady on our feet and open in the hips. Only then naturally the upper body will open. Back-bending requires openness of the hips because both the hip flexors and extensors attach to or influence the lower back movement. So it makes sense to gradually start from the bottom and make our way up.
These are extremely important because they bring the body back into balance. For example, when we practice a backbend, this should be followed by a forward fold asana for flexion and stretch or the spine, to bring it back into a neutral state. Spinal twists are also useful here. If we practice an inversion, then it is natural it should be followed with an introspective resting asana such as Balasana (child’s pose) to allow the body and nervous system to come into its neutral, balanced state.
EXPLORE THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN
Although many asanas used throughout a practice are considered inversions (Uttanasana, Prasarita Padottanasana etc), the more dynamic ones such as Sarvangasana, Sirsasana, Pincha Mayurasana, Adho Mukha Vrksasana are to be done at the end of the sequence. They reverse the blood and prana flow which is a lot for the body and the nervous system. They also require more energy and effort for the body, so practicing these before Savasana is suitable. Although they energise the mind (exception being Sarvangasana which calms the mind) through the reverse of blood and prana flow, afterwards we need to rest to allow the parasympathetic nervous system to be active so that resting can occur. Is it a must to include the dynamic inversions? No, especially if you are not comfortable with teaching them or practicing them without a teacher. As mentioned, many asanas we practice are inversions meaning the head is below the heart, so this can be sufficient.
Finally, the moment of relaxation begins. I mention this often and in my opinion, Savasana should always be practiced at the end of a class and never to be skipped. This is so important because in Savasana, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, allowing us to rest, for the mind and body to feel calm, for the digestive process to work, for the breath to be regulated etc. I was always taught by one of my teachers that one should never walk out of an asana class hyped up. This is not a balanced state. So Savasana is like the master of the practice, where the true wisdom begins and all teachings of the class are revealed.
A supportive approach to 7 arm balancing asanas using yoga blocks.
Arm balancing asanas can be a little challenging at first, but when attempting them from a place of humbleness and not ego, it can become a more accessible journey. For sure strength is required to get into and find steadiness in arm balances, and this can come only through practice. When I say to attempt them from a space of humbleness, I mean that when we first learn how to get into any arm balance, we should do it when we feel ready physically and mentally. Using yoga blocks can help to provide support for the body and find balance and steadiness. They are also a reminder that in our practice, and in life, we sometimes need support and help and we can learn to be open to receive it. I often see student being reluctant to use yoga props because somehow this would mean they are "not good enough at yoga". Please eliminate such concepts because in yoga, this does not exist. This is a cognitive pattern of the ego and we must learn to embrace our time on the mat with truthfulness, courage and humility.
There are three important aspects to take in consideration when practicing arm balances. One is the drishti (our focus point), another is the breath and lastly is mula bandha. The drishti is one of the most important parts of the asana practice. Where we focus our attention has a big impact not only on the steadiness of the body, but also for the mind. To be able to reach mental focus in our practice, in any asana, we must learn to use the drishti, which a teacher usually guides where it is. The breath is the most important part of our practice because it is the fuel of our existence. Without breath, there is no practice. So we need to learn how to use it wisely and to the fullest. In an arm balance, usually the exhalation is on effort, as the body creates space and with it we can activate the core muscles, which give us the strength for maintaining balance. Finally, using mula bandha in arm balances is a great way to develop strength and steadiness. Mula bandha (the root lock) activates the energy of Muladhara, the root chakra, the part of the subtle body related to creating a strong foundation on and off the mat, grounding and stability.
And of course, it goes without saying that practice is required to be confident and steady in arm balancing asanas. The practice is what guides us, it is our master that reveals to us some of the greatest teachings on the mat and in our life. What comes from it, is a result of continuous dedication and commitment. We must learn to love the practice and respect it, without desiring too much from the outcome. Just practice and see what comes.
Below are some helpful ways to practice some arm balancing asanas using the support of blocks.
KAKASANA - CROW POSE
PARSVA KAKASANA - SIDE CROW POSE
BALA KAKASANA - BABY CROW POSE
BHUJAPIDASANA - SHOULDER PRESSING POSE
TITTIBHASANA A - FIREFLY POSE
TITTIBHASANA A - FIREFLY POSE (variation)
PINCHA MAYURASANA - FEATHERED PEACOCK POSE
Learn about the 3 important aspects to consider when practicing backbend asanas.
Back-bending asanas can definitely look beautiful, but they require a lot of hard work. It’s important to take in consideration that every physical body has its own natural abilities & limitations. Some people are naturally more flexible than others. They might be able to almost effortlessly get into Chakrasana/Urdhva Dhanurasana. Other people are naturally more strong, therefore they might approach arm balances with more ease or hold Navasana for longer. No physical body is perfect and thankfully yoga asana practice does not require this. Many of the asanas are available to most people, using modifications or yoga props for extra support.
What I sometimes see happen for those wanting to deepen their backbends is that they tend focus just on this. They over practice the more dynamic ones and exhaust their body and spine. They have no particular technique to this type of attempts, it is just the continuous practice of spine extension. And whilst results can indeed come quicker, the body might not be ready for this quick shift. As with anything in excess, over time this will cause exhaustion, muscle fatigue and maybe even injury.
The 3 most important aspects of practicing backbend asanas in my opinion are safety, technique and patience. Let's look at each of these in more detail.
This concept should be applied to all asanas. Yoga postures are not a physical performance, but a physical practice. Each one requires lots of work and commitment through gradual effort applied, repetition and practice, for the body to safely learn to be steady in the asana. Therefore safety is important. Learn about the alignment necessary. Alignment is not there to make us reach perfection, but to keep us safe in the asana. For example, a person who is naturally very flexible and can get into most backbends with ease, should learn to recognise when to stop. Because if over flexibility is there, then one may not be aware when too much effort is applied too quickly and injury can occur without one even realising.
Our back is also said to be the area where a lot of emotional tension related to Muladhara (root chakra) and Swadisthana (sacral chakra) can be stored. Energetically this can create a blockage like sensation and can take a lot of time to release. So first we need to get ourselves grounded and steady, and then begin to open up, let go and welcome in. These are all qualities of Anahata, the heart chakra. We must learn to focus and be completely aware in the practice. To work with the body not go against it.
There are specific steps to follow before approaching a backbend asana. First we must learn to ground the body and mind through (usually) standing or seated asanas and by coming to a cycle of complete and natural breathing flow. Then as we journey into the practice, we gradually shift the focus on opening the hips to provide a healthy mobility range in this area. Both the hip flexors and hip extensors connect to and have an impact on the lower back. If there is stiffness experienced in the hips, and we don’t focus on this area first, then the backbend will not occur in a safe manner. Only afterwards we can start to focus on opening the chest and explore our spine extension range of movement. It is also important to remember that the lumbar spine naturally has a curve, so the extension to focus on is primarily in the thoracic area. This is the part that most needs this movement and rarely we apply this outside of our asana practice. So on the mat, it is the perfect opportunity to do so.
How we breathe is very important too in chest opening asanas. On inhalation we rise and expand through the chest, and on exhalation we create more focus on the hips supporting the backbend or apply the most effort. It naturally makes sense that when we practice backbend asanas, our inhalation will help us open the chest more. It is the fuel of our physical existence. Just as in Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose) for example, first we inhale and open the chest, then as we exhale we raise the hips. The energising effect of practicing backbend asanas can be fully experienced only when we learn to use the breath in synchronicity with the movement. When the breathing is done effectively, and we work on the thoracic spine flexibility, then the chest and shoulders begin to open with more ease, more naturally.
And as always, counter poses are very important. I always say practice maximum 2 backbends but then apply a forward fold & some gentle twists to neutralise the spine.
Lack of patience is also something we often experience in our asana practice. We want instant results, forgetting that yoga is a lifestyle and a sadhana which ideally we can continue throughout our life, at any age. It takes time, consistency and patience. I have been there myself too. We want so much to do an asana because we believe in ourselves, but sometimes the patience is our practice. We must learn to take it step by step. I get questions such as “how long will it take to do it this asana? What do I need to do?”. This is irrelevant, remember it is not a performance, We need to practice a consistent, balanced practice everyday. And see what comes. Please don’t force your body into any backbend or any other asana. Recognise this is ego, not a higher self decision. Teach your body patiently, learn to breathe correctly in the asana and then let it come when it comes. If you flow with the rhythm of your practice, then you can naturally begin to open your heart to what comes. And this is the treasure of our sadhana.
Part 2 blog series of the 6 qualities for success in yoga as described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
In the last post I introduced the first three qualities for success in Yoga. To emphasise again on the word "success", it is not necessarily used to describe an achievement or outcome, but its meaning can symbolise one who becomes established in the sadhana (spiritual practice).
Our practice can indeed change over time, as well as the yoga path we naturally find ourselves exploring, but the sadhana can always be consistent and done with commitment. It is not just a practice that starts and ends on the mat, but a lifestyle which we can maintain throughout our physical existence if we choose to do so. What we learn on the mat, continues after we leave the mat. Life in our practice and we are continuously learning, exploring and transforming.
Let’s explore together the last three qualities mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika for our yoga lifestyle and spiritual journey development.
For our yoga practice to remain consistent and continue to evolve, there must be unshakeable faith. First, this refers to having unshakeable faith in our guru or teachers. A guru is a yoga and spiritual master who can bring one from darkness to light because they themselves have developed spiritual realisation. A teacher is one who guides their students with patience, truth and right knowledge on their yoga path. However we take it, we need to trust and have faith in our teachers. Then we must have unshakeable faith in Divine essence or that which is of higher nature and pure form beyond the ego/individual self. And finally, we must have unshakeable faith in ourselves, by developing mental strength and will-power.
Related to unshakeable faith, courage is an important quality to develop in our sadhana. Whilst the yoga journey is indeed coated with beautiful experiences and realisations, it also comes with many challenges, obstacles and sometimes doubts. Therefore, to have consistency, courage is needed to overcome these. If we have unshakeable faith in our teachers and the Divine essence, then courage and perseverance naturally evolve. On the mat, courage is needed to approach each asana. Courage of getting into the asana and courage to be present and still through all the realisations the practice brings. Courage to take our practice off the mat and remained focused, patient and compassionate throughout life.
AVOIDING THE COMPANY OF COMMON PEOPLE
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika presents us with the last quality for success in yoga, which is avoiding the company of common people. I understand the word “common” may seem confusing, so I will explain what it refers to. Here, it is advised to stay clear of those who engage their time on gossip and laziness; on tamastic habits and behaviours and those who have lower aspirations. As sadhana is a journey that naturally evolves with discipline and commitment, many changes will take place within. This can sometimes takes us away from old useless habits or from mixing with people who don't support the transformation. This is actually a natural cycle of life, and when we do start to take our practice more seriously as a spiritual tool to self-realisation we will naturally gravitate and attract people who match this energy. It becomes more difficult to spend time with others of low vibration and negative mindset because our understanding of life, habits and mindset transforms. So we want to be in the presence of those who have similar attitude for life. Although it is important to note that we should not judge others and practice compassion always.
I invite you to explore the 6 qualities with patience and humbleness. The practice is lifelong, and what comes with it we can welcome it in and what goes we can learn to release. No matter what circumstances we face in life, we can always step on the mat with enthusiasm and perseverance to keep it consistent; with the analysis/discrimination of what is right and wrong, what supports our practice and what doesn’t; we can practice with unshakeable faith and courage; and by making the decision to surround ourselves with people who are uplifting and joyful. Most importantly, always practice with ahimsa (non-harm) to your mind and body, with satya (truthfulness) and santosha (contentment).
The 6 qualities needed for success in yoga as presented in Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is one of the oldest and most in depth texts of Hatha Yoga. It was compiled and created by Swami Swatmarama in approximately the 15th century. Here, we can get an understanding of many yogic practices which lead to the self-realisation of the yoga path. The text provides clear explanations of many important aspects of Sadhana (spiritual practice) and one who is devoted to the yoga path may find it a helpful guide on their spiritual journey.
In verse 16, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika presents the 6 qualities needed to succeed in yoga. I often write about the importance of not setting goals or chasing something in the yoga path. So the word success here refers to one who becomes established in their sadhana and comes to the state of Moksha/Self-realisation.
In this part 1 of 2 for the 6 successes of Yoga blog series, I will focus on the first three aspects and will attempt to explain each one, so that you can understand it well. As the text is quite old, yet nonetheless insightful, sometimes it may be difficult to relate to some of the teachings especially if you have not been practicing for a long time and under a teacher who teaches you the philosophy. Our world now is much more different than it was for the rishis. If we can take what we can do well and apply it in our daily life, then this can give us the means to continue exploring the path. As most of you (my readers) practice asana as the main yogic practice, I will relate these to the asana practice. However it is important to note that this is just a small part of the entire yoga philosophy and its practices.
The first of the 6 successes of yoga as presented in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is utsah or enthusiasm. One must have a positive attitude toward their sadhana. I often relate this to the second Nyama by Patanjali, which is Santosha/contentment. The spiritual practice is not easy; many challenges and doubts may rise at first, and continue to do so. However, if we can practice with joy and enthusiasm then we will keep focused and committed. The whole purpose of the yoga path is to reach liberation and freedom from ignorance of the true self, meaning that it brings us to our true nature, beyond and away from our ego. This is a beautiful aspect and our practice can reflect such a connection with the Divine essence within. Everyday we start our practice it can be approached as a new experience. There is no need to put pressure on ourselves to reach a specific asana, or even more so, enlightenment. Practice with enthusiasm and see what comes. Keep positive and joyful, because this is part of the process.
DHAIRYA - Perseverance
If we want to bloom any seed of intention, then we must always keep consistent in our practice. Whatever circumstances may arise, we can learn to develop will-power to continue. No matter how many times you will fall on your mat, do it humbly and get back up. Accept this as the teaching of your practice that day. On the mat, and in life, sometimes there will be some situations which come up that can seem as obstacles. But it happens and we can learn to surrender to these and not lose our focus. Keeping our enthusiasm and persevering are needed. Often I get students asking me "How long will it take to reach so and so asana?" to which I respond "this is irrelevant". There is no final destination in our practice, especially on the mat. We do it daily and we persevere no matter what. Some might never be able to fully reach an asana due to their physiology, whilst other can do so with ease. Both are irrelevant. Step on the mat and practice. Keep consistent and committed, keep going, keep growing.
TATTVAJNANA - Discrimination
Tattvajnana is made of two words “tattva” which can mean “truth” and “jnana” which can mean right or supreme knowledge. Discrimination here refers to our ability to discriminate between what is right and what is wrong. Relating to the practice, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika explains discrimination as a means to do everything with good outcome for the sadhana. It is not only about doing so on the mat, but in our every day life. The food we eat, the habits we engage with daily, the choices we make, the company we keep, the material aspects in our life etc must always have a positive effect on our practice. If they don't then this will interfere so it is advised to change and adapt to something that does.
Our practice goes beyond the mat. The way I look at it is that our practice is like our master. It teaches us so many different aspects, which we must then learn to apply in our life. Sadhana is not only on the mat, but continues throughout our life. It is not enough to practice asana for the sake of being physically strong, fit and flexible. These qualities should ideally reflect in our habits and all that we do.
Our spiritual practice is our life. Those who commit to the yoga path, can do so with the willingness to explore their life from a space of truth, direct experience and openness. Whilst I conclude the first three success aspects in yoga, I invite you to take the time to explore these for yourself. Whether you already have a practice or not yet, see if you can apply these to your daily life and spiritual practice. It is so important to do self-enquiry on our yoga path. It might not be an easy road to follow, but it is through the practice we discover the beauty and truth of life. And if you can experience more enthusiasm, perseverance and good actions in your life, perhaps this will bring some balance and joy to your everyday or at least keep you focused on your practice.
Embrace the lunar powerful with this gentle and restorative yoga sequence for the October full moon.
On the 9th of October, we have the Aries full moon. This energy is said to be all about healing, forgiveness and accepting the flow of all that is, but also connecting with our inner power and drive to live the life we want to live. The lunar energy is quite heavy in general, but when healing is involved it can feel even more so. Full moons always prompt us to reflect and realise where we are now, and what we need to do, to get to where we want to be. Whatever we are holding on to and burdens us, might suddenly become clear. Frustration and tension can also be experienced during this time. But the moon also teaches us to find light in the darkness; to face the shadows and not run away from them; to learn to embrace the moments of reflection and contemplation.
The beautiful aspect is that we just came out of a Mercury retrograde period. This time always comes with challenges, but as soon as it ends, its purpose is always understood and appreciated if we choose to see the lessons from it. So I see this full moon as the final cleanse after a challenging and heavy period.
Aries is a strong fire sign, independent and bold. This energy can be felt for all signs during this full moon, especially when it comes to making decisions. As Aries is courageous and brave, always wanting to feel free to express, this is our cue to reflect on what is holding us back from doing the things we love and expressing ourselves freely. Then we can take action to make smart choices that influence our lifestyle and our personal growth in a positive and truthful way.
Although according to some yoga styles traditions, during full moons, it is not advised to practice asanas, a gentle restorative sequence can support this healing energy and give us the comfort we need to embrace this peacefully.
Virasana hugging the bolster variation
Hold for: 2-3 minutes.
Virasana or hero pose is a beautiful asana of steadiness and stability. It is a gentle hip opener in the inner thighs area and it also helps to stretch the quadriceps. Come into Vajrasana, sitting on your calves then gently slide the legs away from one another and bring your buttocks on the mat. Hugging the bolster is all about channeling the energy of love and belonging.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
Hold for: 3-4 minutes on each side.
Continuing to focus on the hips, straighten the left leg back with the top of the foot on the mat. Bring your right knee forward in between the palms toward the front of the mat. Place a bolster under under the right buttock and and another in front of you; then gently fold forward with the upper body, melting the heart space on the bolster. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana or one legged king pigeon pose opens the hips and helps to release any physical and emotional tension held here.
Hold for: 2minutes.
This is a nice variation of Paschimottanasana, practiced in a reclined position to support the back. It focuses on stretching the hamstrings. Lie down in a supine position, place a bolster under the sacrum and raise your legs. Then gently bring both legs towards the front. This also helps to boost blood circulation in the legs. A strap can also be used around the feet, but try not to pull the legs towards you.
Supta Matsyendrasana variation
Hold for: 3 minutes on each side.
Spinal twists teach us to release any stagnant emotional, physical or mental tension held in the body, particularly in the stomach area and the back. They help to cleanse and stimulate the digestive organs. Lie down on the right side of the body, with your left knee on top of the right. Place a bolster on the right side of the upper body, and gently begin to shift the upper body back, turning with the chest to the bolster. Fold onto the bolster whilst keeping the knees in their position.
Reclined side rest
Hold for: 2 minutes on each side.
After practicing Supta Matsyendrasana variation on the right side, come into this reclined side rest to bring the spine back to its neutral position. Place a bolster in between your legs and one under your head. Hug the top of the bolster and relax.
Stay here for 10 minutes or longer if needed.
Finally, the moment of complete rest arrives. I call Savasana the master of all asanas. Relax your whole body on the mat. In Savasana, there is no effort of the body, breath and mind; only stillness and awareness. Place the bolster under your knee for supporting the lower back in its neutral position and avoiding over extension of the spine. This is especially useful for those with lordosis.
Asana practice is perhaps the most commonly known forms of yoga worldwide from the whole yoga philosophy. It is part of the Raja yoga path by Sage Patanjali, as the third limb amongst the eight. Although asana practice is a powerful tool we have available in our life, the way we practice it matters.
Our intention when we step on the mat plays a key role in our practice. These days, many are more focused on performing asanas instead of developing a steady foundation for the body and mind. We want to keep moving, to use the asanas as a means of getting fit and in shape, resisting the essence of the practice, which is about stillness and awareness. We rush to do a more anatomically complex asana, just to prove to ourselves that we can do it or to take a photo and share with the world our physical abilities, ignoring the true purpose of the postures, which is to develop strength and flexibility, so that we can be still and get mental clarity.
I mention the above because I also went through these stages throughout my yoga journey. And as a teacher, I often see these in my students but I also see the shift in their approach once I teach them the philosophy.
I was blessed enough early on in my yoga journey with amazing teachers who brought me the true meaning of the asana practice. I remember a time when I asked one of my teachers to help me with a specific asana I was trying to “master”. She immediately said no and told me to never ask again for an asana. I remember being so annoyed and upset. In that moment, I couldn’t believe it. I was thinking “how can this be, this is my teacher, why is she not teaching me?”.
But I respect my teachers so I trusted there was a reason for this. Indeed there was and with a little time, I understood it. She said no not because I couldn’t do it, or because she didn’t believe in me or that she didn’t want to help me. She said no so that I learn to be humble on the mat and allow my practice to unfold naturally. My desire to do this anatomically advanced asana was simply my ego trying to get a boost and validation. To this day, this has been one of the best lessons a teacher ever gave me and I gained even more respect for her. She is still my teacher and one of the most authentic yoga teachers I have ever met. I have also never asked for an asana again nor I have the desire to.
I learned the philosophy and continued to remain focused on this. The philosophy is the root of the practice and it is what takes it from a physical practice to a sadhana, a spiritual practice.
The wisdom of it is not what happens externally, but what is experienced internally through awareness and concentration. We can have a level of perfection in doing the postures if we have a natural strength and flexibility tendency. But does this really matter?
Does this make us better humans?
Are we more compassionate if we can hold an arm balance for a prolonged period of time?
Do we become more patient by pushing ourselves through a sweaty Vinyasa flow?
Do we heal and learn to forgive by doing a handstand?
And most importantly, does our asana practice help us get closer to who we really are?
These are all questions of self-enquiry to contemplate upon from time to time. Whatever you answer is, this reveals the meaning of your practice currently. Then you can understand if it is taking you to a higher level of knowledge or if you need to adjust it so that it is not an ego based practice. There is no right or wrong, it is a reflective process to give you clarity on how you are using your practice.
At some point, we will age, our bodies will become more frail and our minds more forgetful. What will we do then if our attitude to our practice is about external pleasure instead of internal calm and steadiness…
Perhaps the most important taking from this is to learn that your practice is personal. Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the first and most important Hatha Yoga texts teaches us this when mentioning that our practice should be kept private between our physical form and true Self and with the guidance of our teacher. Then there is no need to prove anything, it is a means of unfolding through the layers of the body and mind to go inwards, to learn and to focus.
Focus more on being present on the mat, rather than endlessly trying to master an asana.
Focus on finding a good teacher that can lead you on your yoga path, who you trust and respect.
Focus on learning to breathe correctly, on practicing pranayama, on training your mind to concentrate.
There is a reason why asana practice is not part of the highest forms of spiritual practices in the Ashtanga eightfold path, although it is indeed an important aspect as are all of the eight limbs. My understanding of this is that aside from developing the physical purification, strength and flexibility which are indeed essential, through it we will also learn to shift our attention internally and not give into our ego. Then naturally pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation) naturally come. When we truly learn this, perhaps self-realisation is closer to attain.
Until then, practice with joy, with respect for the practice and for your teachers, with self-belief and humbleness. It is not a competition on how good we can be in the asanas, this does not exist in the practice. It is about the teachings that unfold through the process of willingly working with the body and mind to reach a harmonious and balanced state.
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