This is a four part series of five-step instructions for creating the perfect yoga pose on every level; Part 1 – the body, Part 2 – the mind, Part 3 – the spirit, and Part 4 – integration. Each level is broken down into five core principles, or “steps” to achieving harmony on that level within the pose. At the end, we’ll tie it all together in an integrated summary – the ultimate 5-Steps to building the perfect pose on every level.
The body is a great place to start because it is the easiest thing to focus on for most people, especially in the beginning. Once you have reigned in the body, it will cooperate with you more and you will have an easier time quieting your mind and connecting to your spirit. In fact, yoga poses were invented for this express purpose in the first place.
THE 5-STEP YOGA POSE FORMULA: FOR THE BODY
1. Breathe life into the pose.
Be conscious of the breath as you move into, hold, and release a pose. Be aware of the breath and return to it every time you think of it. Let it be your guide, informing the pace and intensity of your practice. Any time your breathing becomes labored, slow down or rest in a restorative pose.
E.g., “Inhale, stand tall as you ground through the feet. Exhale, dive down into a forward fold.”
2. Ground down.
A pose is only as strong as its foundation. In grounding down, we grow roots into the earth and draw on the power of Mother Nature to support us. We lay a solid foundation from the ground up. From here, we can build the pose. You must always ground down in order to build up.
E.g., ”Stand evenly, pressing all four corners of the feet and the tips of the toes into the floor.”
3. Float up.
As you ground down through whatever part of your body is in contact with the ground, you gain lift and lightness through the rest of the body. Feel this lightness lifting you. In standing poses, the top of the head floats up toward the ceiling. Backbends and twists invite us to open the heart and expand ourselves in all directions as we maintain space in between each vertebrae of the spine. Forward folds and Savasana allow us to surrender while maintaining length and room for energy to flow.
E.g., “As you continue to ground down through the feet in Mountain Pose, feel the arches of the feet lifting and the crown of the head floating up toward the ceiling.”
4. Complete the circuit of energy.
Gather all the components, integrate, and add the finishing touches. Make sure you’re activating all the lines of energy. Fill out the shape of the posture and become that shape more fully. With practice, you will master what Dr. Ray Long calls a “bandha,” or lock. Traditionally, specific bandhas are done at the root, abdomen, and throat to more effectively channel prana, the life force. Dr. Long suggests that a bandha can happen when the whole body awakens and unifies, resulting in a graceful, beautiful yoga pose. It could be thought of as a whole-body bandha. 
E.g., “In Tree Pose, ground down through the standing foot as the crown of the head floats up. Actively press your other foot into the inner thigh of the standing leg and vice versa. Press evenly through all four corners of each foot to activate pada bandha in the feet. Activate your Mula Bandha at the perineum and notice the extra lift and firming of the whole torso.”
5. Hold, breathe, and adjust as needed.
Continue to hold and breathe. Now you can begin to fine tune the pose, making the minor adjustments that seem so small yet can make such a big difference. As you relax into the pose, make sure your breathing is easy and steady, your facial expression is peaceful, and you are in optimal alignment. It might be that rotating the chest, lifting through the heart, or moving a hip slightly forward could trigger a moment of pure bliss for you.
E.g., “Still in tree pose, keep both hips facing forward and send the bent knee backward.”
So there it is, the magical formula. I’m sure there are as many formulas that would work just as well or better. As my teacher, Eoin Finn so aptly stated,
“In the end, we’re only just swapping recipes.”
As you uncover more and more layers to yourself, you will peel the veils of consciousness away until you have uncovered the pure spirit of your inner being. This time, we were introduced to the 5-Step formula for our bodies to experience the perfect yoga pose on a physical level. Next time, we will explore bringing mental awareness and balance to every yoga pose. In the third issue of this series, we will weave in the spiritual aspect of the pose. In the fourth and final issues, we’ll sum everything up and look at the big picture.
Once we practice bringing everything together, mastery of the pose and of the self is the natural, poetic result.
1. Dr. Ray Long has his own perfect yoga pose formula, which he calls the Bandha Yoga Codex. It inspired me to try coming up with my own perfect recipe.