Reflections on asana

At best, I’m a mridu student, what the purists would call a mild one. The gains in asana have been more a function of a few years and a meandering exploration rather than a strict, structured one. In practice, I am curious rather than outcome led, the shift having happened during a long period of knee rehabilitation. Many of the poses and positions I assumed then were passive, heavily propped and required long stays. It helped the body alright, I can walk long and far, sit cross legged and even attempt the odd lotus pose now. But, more than that, I learned to simply be. This really is why I return to the mat again and again.

As a raw beginner, there was a lot of doing, energetic muscular actions but with time, there has been more efficiency in quieter, less effortful movements. A certain luxuriousness of curiosity, an embracing of the unknown, an openness to experiences of the senses, the mind and textures of silence. The same asana is never the same just like the oft trodden paths I walk are never the same.

Honing a craft involves repetition, countless repetition and yet it is new every time. The nectar of any activity is revealed and received as benediction but before that one has to strive, sweat and bleed. In the few years of study, I’ve been fascinated by the very first pose that was taught, Tadasana or the mountain pose. It is a deceptively simple act of standing straight but like many fellow practitioners, I can spend an hour or more exploring and examining the actions, reactions, responses, effects and so on.

This morning was again a study in tadasana through the anatomy of the hamstrings and sartorius muscle. The very act of standing is a symphony of so many parts, each coming together to hold the body upright. Close your eyes and you begin to see how despite the seeming symmetry, there’s a favouring of one side. Sometimes, we explore tadasana through a headstand and that’s when their firmness comes into play. At others it is through being seated or in supine positions. Each approach is a bit like climbing a mountain from its different faces. The texture of a tadasana arrived at from sirsasana is dramatically different from one that is a result of seated poses like dandasana or upavishtakonasana.

What does it mean to stand tall in tadasana? What does it mean to be a mountain? Every time I think of mountains, I imagine presence quite like the trees and stones, things of the earth element. Grounding and providing a substratum for the play of life. Our feet and legs too belong to that same principle of firm groundedness. Now more than ever, we need that stability and contentment to endure what is difficult and what is uncertain. Now more than ever we need the quiet strength and elegance to stay. Names of asanas are a lovely invitation to stay with their meaning and plumb their essence into one’s actions.

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