Welcome to Part 2 of “How to Build the Perfect Yoga Pose.”
In Part 1, we covered how to build the perfect yoga pose on a physical level. This month, we will delve deeper into the mind and learn my 5-Step formula for building the perfect yoga pose on a mental level.
In The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, yoga is defined as follows:
“Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness.
Then pure awareness can abide in its very nature.” 1
By cultivating a yogic state of mind, we facilitate the journey inward towards our true nature. From here, it is possible to hear the voice of spirit and be guided from within. This inner guidance system is attuned to the energy of harmony, peace, and happiness. Contrary to what many Westerners mistakenly believe, yoga is not a series of exotic poses. It is a state of being that results from a calm, relaxed mind. If any exercise is approached with the intention to tap into this peaceful state of mind, it is transformed into a yoga pose. In this sense, anything that is done with mindfulness is a yoga pose.
Let’s dive in and see how it’s done.
THE 5-STEP YOGA POSE FORMULA: FOR THE MIND
1. Be at ease and enjoy yourself.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali state that a yoga pose should be pleasant and easy.2 If you think enlightenment can be found by touching your forehead to your knees, you’re in for a rude awakening. This is the mindset that results in injury and ultimately, more suffering. A yoga pose is perfected when it unfolds in its own time and is enjoyed for its own sake, not to meet a particular goal. Release any attachment you may have to reaching a destination and just enjoy the journey.
Eg., “Reach toward your toes as far as you comfortably can and melt into it.”
2. Turn your awareness inward.
Notice how you feel. Practice listening deeply to your body and thoughts. Withdrawing your senses and turning your attention inward is the fifth limb of yoga, pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses). As you hold the pose, remember to breathe and be with the pose in the present moment. Listen to your body and be in constant dialogue with the signals it is relaying. Be in dynamic conversation with your body as you fine tune the pose in this beautiful stillness you’ve created.
Eg., “Notice how you feel. Are your shoulders tensing up? Release them. Are you holding your breath? Allow the breath to flow and deepen.”
After turning your awareness inward, you may notice distracting thoughts creeping in, making it difficult to deepen your awareness any further. To help with stilling the mind, it is essential to practice Dharana (pointed concentration), the seventh limb of yoga. The object of focus can be thought of as a rope that guides you more deeply into yourself. If your mind wonders, you can always come back to your focal point. Traditionally, objects of focus have included mantras, deities, breathing techniques, and spiritual concepts. In yoga poses, the objects of focus are generally to do with the breath and the alignment of the body.
Eg., “As distractions arise, allow them to pass as you return to your breath.”
3. Find your balance.
Bring harmony to the yin/yang components of the pose by energizing the active muscles (the prime movers) and softening the more passive muscles (antagonist muscles). Balance your will to succeed with a willingness to surrender. There will always be some effort involved in a yoga pose but it must be balanced by a relaxed state of mind that is open and receptive to what the body, the heart, and the song of your spirit have to offer.
Eg., “As you bend forward into a forward fold, energize your feet, kneecaps, and thighs while relaxing the backs of the legs. If you experience any pain or discomfort, back off.”
4. Connect the dots.
Integrate all the elements, draw everything in, bring it all together and you will have a magnificent yoga pose. This is the binding element that bridges mind, body, and spirit. Envision yourself in the pose – steady, graceful, and at peace. Fully embody the essence of the pose. Eric Schiffman expressed it beautifully when he said to “fill out the shape of what you now are.”
Eg., “In mountain pose, the feet are grounding into the earth and a sense of effortless stability is felt. In simply standing tall, we embody the majestic spirit of the mountains.”
That sums up the mental aspects of a yoga pose. As you learn to harness the mind and let go of thoughts, you will gain a deep understanding of your true nature.
Next time, we’ll explore the spiritual dynamics of yoga poses and learn how to use the spiritual aspect of a yoga pose to supercharge your conductivity to grace. Many people begin a yoga practice to recieve its physical and mental health benefits, then become hooked on the practice after spontaneously experiencing the spiritual benefits. This is thanks to all the generous, caring yoga teachers who “sneak vitamins into the ice cream” as my teacher, Eoin Finn happily confesses to doing.
The spirit world is a vast field of divine intelligence that is flowing through all beings at all times. You could also call it inner knowing, heart intelligence, or wisdom. In the illusory material world, we often block this flow because it appears to defy logic when viewed through our limited human perception. When we are receptive to this stream, we allow it to inform our thoughts, words, and actions. From here, everything we do becomes a meditative art form. Everything we do becomes yoga.
Until next time, Peace & Blessings.
1 From The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, Verse 1.2 – 1.3, translated by Chip Hartranft, The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, A New Translation with Commentary (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc, 2003).
2 From The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, Verse 2.46