Action in Practice

By David Garrigues

In this new post I speak about the concept action in asana, action as a catalyst to the revolution within you. There is a wide range from (superficial to deep) of what constitutes action in asana. At times cultivating action may mean that you activate specific muscle groups to move your bones and achieve dynamic alignment of the skeleton. When you lengthen your hamstring muscles in a forward bend, you must contract the quadriceps muscles in the front thighs. The action here is to engage the opposing muscle group to achieve a dynamism between agonist and antagonist muscle groups.

This action works the hamstring safely but also shapes the leg intelligently and leads to the deeper, more subtle action of pressing the thigh bone further into the leg. (called grounding the femur). Grounding the femur ensures that the femur sits comfortably in the hip socket and helps optimize the transfer of weight from the pelvis through the legs, feet into the earth. Grounding the femur puts you in touch with the musculature of the pelvic floor and helps awaken mula bandha.

At first cultivating action in asana may seem like something small, tedious or doing a lot of work for little or no results. But the effort you put forth to activate certain opposing muscle groups or to properly align your skeleton in each posture serves as a foundational pillar of your health, progress and growth. That effort helps you to better cleanse and work your body safely and sustainably, it sharpens the mind, gives extraordinary powers of concentration, and opens you to the interior limbs of ashtanga yoga.

The internal basis of action in asana practice is to train your senses to remain awake to the inner feelings of the body. You develop highly tuned sensory receptors that reach throughout the inner field of the body. These receptors bring back energetic information that helps you become aware, helps you penetrate to even the most remote regions of the body. You develop special eyes that see inward, special ears that listen within and most importantly a special ‘skin’ that helps you feel within. As the senses become ‘purified’ and internalized you become more conscious better able to harness life force and direct it where you find flow and harmony.

When you begin to work with actions in the body you go to a deeper level to perceive the pattern behind the movements of seemingly unrelated parts. Your skeletal, respiratory, psychological, nervous, digestive, circulatory—all of the major systems of your being both conscious and unconscious begin to act together. This leads you to comprehend a universality that connects and aligns the entire field within you.

Then instead of each breath, posture or transition feeling singular or disconnected or otherwise separate from the whole, the practice becomes one continuous expansion into greater awareness where the folding and unfolding movement patterns draw forth your deep, intuitive body intelligence.

This may sound abstract or complex but actually it’s very intuitive and simple like when you have an instantaneous dawning insight, an ‘aha’. It’s also like learning to get the knack of how to do a difficult posture. The biggest trick of all is to learn how to stay oriented inside your body through your changing mental states, for long enough to really observe and to transform your unconsidered, gross motion into powerful movement that is born from intelligent awareness.

When your practice is centered in the foundational patterns of postures, your ideas of what constitutes an advanced posture will get upended. It is how you go about even the most basic posture that determines its depth. The limitless extent to which you can optimize your breathing and align your postures reveals the wisdom and layered depth contained in each asana.  You find the advanced asana has less to do with how bendable or strong you are, and more with the way you perceive action and the play of opposites. You learn how to align your self and work with (not against) the physical limits of your body.

Creating action within a posture leads you away from placing too much importance on an end goal for your asana. This helps you work safely as you go further. You tune in plainly to your present circumstance and direct your consciousness along positive, active channels in order to invite opening and transformation. Through action you gain the knowledge and skill to go beyond either unfocused, mindlessness or endlessly engaging with and getting caught in your continual stream of moods. You get better at transcending the range of your mental turnings, your enthusiasms, zeal, hardships, skepticisms, fears and such states that obscure your wisdom and appreciation.

The value of action in asana practice is found precisely in that it gives you ways to positively channel your fire, the passionate energy within you that needs expression. By investigating the action required to align a posture you are investigating both how to expand more into your joyous consciousness and how to respond positively to the obstacles that you encounter within yourself.

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Author: David Garrigues

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Here are some more of David;s articles that we have posted:
  • Summary notes on Pasasana (The Noose Posture) May 15, 2013 By David Garrigues There are the notes that accompanied the Asana Kitchen video on Pasasana. 1)Establish a Grounded, Immoveable Foundation Balancing in a full squatting position is one of the most important and challenging aspects to this posture. The feet are your foundation, they are directly in contact with the earth. Organize your posture directly over this foundation ...
  • Ashtanga’s Dynamic Dimension May 15, 2013 By David Garrigues Dynamic is a word that aptly describes the personality and teaching of my late teacher Sri K Pattabhi Jois (Guruji). And what I learned about the connection between vinyasa and dynamism from him has been a major source of my love for the Ashtanga yoga method. In 94′ when I began studying with ...
  • The Diaphragm is Key! Don’t Forget It. Observe It. May 11, 2013 By David Garrigues The diaphragm is the main muscle involved in breathing; when you get an experiential feeling of its actions, that knowledge helps you breathe better and thus helps you develop your yoga practice. You can learn to sense the diaphragms anatomical location within the torso and to follow its contraction (inhalation) and relaxation (exhalation) ...
  • Ashtanga Yoga and the Secret of Mula Bandha May 15, 2013 By David Garrigues Part I Ashtanga Yoga (as in the 8 limbs) begins with Ahimsa, non-harming.   Yama is the first limb of the eight limbs and ahimsa is the first Yama.  Thus ahimsa can be considered the base,  the very foundation and support of the 8 eight limbs.   Consider the use of the word ahimsa, the main ...

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