MANDY’S BLOG: More than pretty shapes – the origins of Asana

These days, by and large, we celebrate the physical benefits of yoga – and there are many! Hatha (body-focused) yoga is most popular in the western world and offers a ton of gorgeous postures, or asanas, for our personal betterment or to share with the world.

Instagram and Pinterest offer us so many tutorials and how-tos for creating that perfect yoga shape. In our pursuit of the next beautiful posture, it can be easy to lose sight of the “why.” Why are we doing the asanas we’re doing?

Maybe the reason is fully physical. We have tight hamstrings, so we sink into a deep wide-legged forward fold. Our shoulders are sore, so we play in Puppy Pose.

I love the physical benefits of my practice. I got into yoga in middle school to give myself a mode of exercise that wasn’t too hard on my tender muscles and fragile joints. But sometimes I start to itch for something else. A bigger reason. An older one.

In the Sanskrit, Asana means “seat.” It refers to the postures the ancient yogis would adopt to facilitate their meditation. Every asana they practiced was designed to align the energy in their bodies and get their minds into the proper state for the type of meditation they wanted to practice.

Nowadays the little meditation I do in each asana has more to do with getting into and out of the postures than getting out of my mind and into my higher Spirit. I’d like to change that. I’d like to do more Dharana (single-pointed focus meditation) than it takes to stay balanced in Tree Pose and more Dyana (detachment from the mundane) than I find in a deep, yummy Yoga Nidra session.

I still love yoga for its physical benefits and I don’t see anything wrong with practicing Hatha yoga for that reason! My practice can serve more than one purpose, and yoga is, at its core, what I need it to be.

But as I lever my way into the balance poses, or twist myself into the more pretzel-y ones, I want to reconnect with the ancient yogis who, millennia before me, knew that meditation and growth starts with the asana.

Asana is only the third limb of the tree of yoga for a reason, after all.

YOGA TEACHERS: How to turn a rough class around in 5 steps

My bad classes usually come on the heels of a long week full of child-induced sleep deprivation and overwork. Most recently, my rough moment in class came in the form of mixing up left and right (my students’ right leg will be so strong now!) and confusing the word “knee” with the word “elbow.”

Not really what you want in a yoga teacher, right? I mean left. I mean- Dammit.

Teachers – you’re gonna have a bad class once in a while.

When the realization that you are not on your game starts to hit, don’t panic! There are some simple steps you can take to turn things around. Next time you find yourself making one too many mistakes, try one of these strategies.

Make a joke about your experience.

Yoga students like to know their teacher is human. Acknowledging your struggles can be a funny and personal point of connection with your class. Click To Tweet

Just be careful with this one, especially if you naturally resort to humor as a coping mechanism! One self-aware moment of humor can lighten the class atmosphere and help shake out the bugs. But remember, one is plenty! Then you’re ready for the next strategy…

Keep moving forward.

This is one of the most valuable tools I gained from my childhood piano lessons. When you make a mistake, don’t let it stop you. Keep going, even if you stumble along the way. Odds are, not everyone notices every mistake, and if you keep going, you can minimize the disruption. But if the mistakes keep piling up and you feel like you can’t shake it…

Take a beat.

Put your class in child’s pose and take a moment to breathe. Ground yourself and grab a moment of mindfulness. Offer yourself grace and remind yourself that our rough days give our lives color. You’ve got this! And if all else fails…

Head into Savasana early.

Or start your cooldown postures sooner than you planned. Moving from flow into restorative might give you the calm and space you need to finish out the class without any more issues. And once you’ve landed the plane and your students are safely in corpse pose…

Let it go.

You don’t have to spend time beating yourself up. Give yourself a moment of Aparigraha and let go what could have been. As you know, teaching yoga is every bit as instructive as taking yoga. Let yourself soak in the little lessons, then move on. You’re a great teacher, and your next class will be better.