When I speak of Yoga with a capital ‘Y’ I’m referring to all eight limbs referenced in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. What are the Yoga Sutras? Well, they are a guide to living a purposeful and meaningful life. Not a script. But words or phrases, that encourage questions, and self-reflection. Today I want to specifically look at yoga for good posture and how we can use the third limb, Asana, to achieve it.
What is ‘Asana’?
Asana is the Sanskrit word which we translate into English as ‘pose’ for example Tadasana is Mountain Pose. Asana is just one-eighth of the 8 limbs of yoga, but it is the most commonly known.
It’s important to have a physical practice. Keeping the body active means we are ensuring good condition and functionality of all the parts. This means, fresh oxygen and blood pumping around the system. Aiding our digestion, removing toxins from the body and building strength and flexibility in the muscles and joints.
Often, it’s known benefits are what attract people to the practice of Yoga in the first place. Building physical strength or flexibility, easing back pain, or repairing an injury.
In a lot of yoga’s, they use the release of the physical restrictions, to help prepare the body to sit still and in a comfortable seat, ready for pranayam and meditative practices.
Finding good posture and avoiding injury
For me, I use Asana practice to realign my body. I’d not realised this until I started a regular practice and began to notice the increase in awareness of my own body and how it fitted together and how it moved.
Introspection and self-inquiry are important aspects when delving into your Asana practice, particularly if you want to avoid injury from overworking the muscles and joints.
In practising Asana, there are some key safety points that come from knowing the anatomy of the human body and how we move. For example, the movement of the knee.
But as everyone’s body is different, using Asana to get to know your body is important for your practice. Rather than being prescribed an Asana to move your body, you use these Asanas to delve deeper into understanding how your body moves, your abilities and restrictions, understanding the difference between strengthening, stretching and pain.
You need to learn about your body to avoid injury, and Asana provides that opportunity to do so. Which is why so often in both yoga styles I teach, I encourage students to close their eyes and ‘feel’ into the pose. Your space is on your mat. Your focus is within those ‘four walls’ not what the person is doing next to you. Yes, of course, follow the guidance of your teacher (whether that is in class or when watching online) but listen to your body too. As my teacher has said to me, ‘challenge, but do not push’. Never push through the pain. It’s there for a reason.
Difference between a ‘yoga injury’ and discovering injury through yoga
Once you begin a regular Asana practice. It’s not unusual to begin to discover old injuries resurfacing. If this happens, or you feel you have an injury, always speak to your medical practitioner before continuing the practice.
I’d like to share my personal story of discovering past injuries and using yoga to help rebalance my body.
Since 2016, I’ve been working to re-balance my body. Both physically and mentally, but today I focus on the physical.
You can see what I mean by these two images. One taken in 2016 and the other in early October 2018.
I’ve been to physiotherapists and osteopaths to try and ease the regular discomfort in the middle of my back, shoulder and neck, looking at ways to even out my body. From speaking to them, and doing my own self-inquiry work, I’ve discovered my hips are slightly out of alignment and that pulls my lower back out of place slightly (now I’m not so surprised that I slipped a disc back in 2016!). Working from the base up, this is why there is an effect on the middle of my back, shoulder and neck. The misalignment begins at my hips. So over the past two years I’ve been using yoga Asana for good posture. I also did some study on the structure of the Spine and surrounding muscles, which gave me a better understanding of its purpose and functionality.
So my own practice incorporates, some exercises from both practitioners plus also Asana that I know will stretch and strengthen the same muscles. Through self-inquiry, I’ve learned that certain Asanas like Lizard pose, actually aggravate my condition to the point of putting my neck out. I also think about how I stand, sit and walk. Again, taking that focus inwards. I also use massage balls and a yoga wheel.
It’s important to understand that Asana practice will benefit you, and when done safely, you won’t obtain an injury. But in some cases, it can highlight past injuries that your body has adjusted to so that you barely notice they’re there. Asana will help your body realign, ensure that the muscles are all doing their jobs and that they’re not overcompensating to ‘cover-up’ an injury.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing an Asana because you know it doesn’t work for your body, then don’t do it. Yoga is your practice, and being confident in knowing your body, will allow you to challenge yourself, without the risk of injury.
To get you started, you can check out How to do Cobra in 6 simples steps (a great backbend for beginners, that helps to build strength and flexibility in the spine), plus, also check out the great allrounder pose, Downward dog. Another great pose for beginners to begin strengthening the core muscle group, postural muscles and upper body.
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