AdiYogi was the first yoga practitioner and transmitter, Patanjali practiced and presented it in the form of yoga sutras, and Tirumalai Krishnamacharya revived hatha yoga and developed and mastered it in the form of yogasanas we practice today.
However when we say yoga, what do we mean? Based on where we wish to reside (our goals in other words) there are different levels or depths so to speak. One may only point to what yoga is, ultimately it is up to the individual person (metaphorical bubble or pot) to undertake and master the journey.
One of the way to be in yog or union with the Self is through a three step process.
*Step one is to be in yog at the gross level or level of matter- this is done through ideal alignment
**Step two is to be in yog at the subtle level or through prana that is movement of energy(that is kinetic energy -motion, heat, light, and sound)
***Step three is to concentrate on the Self (source of the universe), within this body temple (metaphorical bubble or pot) and to dissolve or melt into it, which leads to yoga and oneness of anything we come in presence of (Savikalpa Samadhi). Sri Ramakrishna said “when a salt doll enters into the ocean, what remains?”
So what does all this mean? Simply, it is what each one of us wants, the ultimate goal of life, and that is the ability to act and perform the divine dance in the world- mind, body, and spirit in synchrony.
Assuming when all conditions are favorable and we achieve success in an undertaken task….aah! When a task is done without the desire for reward, that is sattvik work. Though not an easy feat to make sattvik work second nature (or on auto-mode), this is not by the least yoga, in fact far from it and only the stepping stone. So practice of yogasanas is one way to work towards this goal and beyond so that one is aware, alert, and awake the entire time. That is it is a science, the steps of which must be repeated diligently, until one day it transforms into an art which flows naturally. When it is said yoga is for anyone, one must be sincere and dedicated to the practice. Not only is it about repetition in one yoga session, class, or years, albeit a practice to be mastered over many births. In this way, the practice may be extrapolated to anything one choses to do, like mastering music, dance, drawing, sculpting, or even mastering life itself.
Easier said than done, isn’t it? We have all experienced how hard this is at some point in our lives. It is hard. Since to determine what is at the root of discord in the movement, is hard to identify. It may be purely one factor or a combination of these. Since our focus here is on modern yoga, let’s consider one asana (Virbhadrasana 1) in detail, keeping in mind the above. For example:
i. One may want to get into Virbhadrasana 1 and is unable to get it because the body is not co-operating. This may manifest as tightness in muscles or lack of stabilizing ability or even an ankle injury which prevents weight bearing on the leg.
ii. When doing Virbhadrasana 1, there may be many distractions in the mind (that is lack of presence) and one may be unable to get it. You are practicing balancing on the feet with a wide stride with one foot pointing straight and the other turned in with front hip and knee flexed and the back leg extended and at the same time rotating the trunk to align the navel with the foot in front, when you suddenly remember and worry about the things in your “to do list” and are unaware of losing your body alignment. This may be gross or very subtle and hence practice of yoga demands your full attention.
iii. Or simply the desire may be lacking. One may set an alarm, the alarm rings and you hit the snooze button and were unable to practice Virbhadrasana 1 that day, simply because you lacked the urge to do it.
In addition may be that the mind says I already have lots to do today, perhaps tomorrow, and/or the body may feel tired and want to lie in bed.
Once we have conquered the initial hurdle and are engaged in consistent sattvik work, we get down to the science and mastering it till we develop grace and fluidity in performance of Virbhadrasana 1.
• Begin by facing to one side on your yoga mat with a wide stride, such that both heels are in line.
• Turn the right foot 90 degrees by pivoting the right foot outwards at the heel.
• Slightly turn the left hip inwards (TFL) and left forefoot/toes inwards, maintaining the heels in one line.
• Slowly bend the right hip and knee (goal being 90 degrees) while lowering the torso toward the ground. This recruits the right iliopsoas, hamstrings, and tibialis anterior as prime agonists. At the end alignment, a gentle co-contraction of the antagonists (gluteus maximus, quadriceps and gastroc-soleus) results in a stable hold of alignment.
• The weight is shifted on the posterior left leg by grounding the heel, with the hip and knee extended through gluteus maximus, quadriceps and hamstrings in co-contraction and tibialis anterior and posterior facilitating left foot inversion.
• Left gluteus medius provides stability at the hip and effective weight transfer from trunk to lower extremity.
• The trunk is rotated right to face forward with navel pointing straight forward through the right internal obliques and left external obliques working in synchrony to achieve this.
• To maintain right hip rotation (neutral to slight internal rotation) and preventing the right knee from collapsing in, the right gluteus medius must counter the internal rotation moment of TFL contraction.
• Elongate the spine as the arms are elevated at shoulders with scapula stabilized by serratus anterior into the chest wall and slightly pulled down (lower trapezius).
• Hands are joined overhead with upper arms behind the ears and elbows extended.
To come out of the pose, lower the arms, and straighten the right knee, then proceed to the next asana.
Ami Gandhi is a licensed physical therapist in the state of California. She is the owner of StableMovement Physical Therapy, a small boutique practice in San Jose that offers patient centered, one-on-one, hands-on physical therapy.