Asana, or a postural class, is the way most of begin to practice yoga over here in the west. We thrive on the feeling of moving our bodies and building that deeper mind-body connection through movement and breath.For me, the first class I ever attended was an Ashtanga class, and I absolutely loved it. It was something I'd never experienced before as I'd never been particularly sporty, or athletic in the slightest. These classes were a way in to building a much deeper awareness of my body, and the goings on of my mind. Most of what we're doing in our physical practice such as ashtanga, vinyasa or any slightly more physically demanding or dynamic styles, is putting stress on the body, specifically the muscles, bones and joints. The stress we're placing on the body, is called eustress, which is, believe it or not, a good form of stress. This stress is beneficial, it helps strengthen our bones, stabilising our joints and keeps them supple, and lengthens and strengthens the muscles of the body. On a subtler level, we're stimulating the autonomic systems of the body. The life sustaining systems like the lymphatic, endocrine, nervous, and respiratory system, and what an incredible effect it can have on our physiology.These benefits can be felt from as little as one class. That's pretty amazing right? one class away from a slightly healthier life and feeling of wellness. When we're going through a class, and experiencing this eustress that we're placing on our bodies, we're also testing our own resilience within the mind. When things get tough, there's that instinct inside of us that makes us want to continue and experience it, run away from it as a whole and give up, or to just pull back slightly. How we react to eustress gives us a good insight into how we handle the daily stresses that we encounter in our everyday lives. Through learning to handle it better within the context of asana or our postural classes, where we are asked to hold steady and embrace these feelings, then we can transfer those skills into our everyday lives.
In a historic context, in the post-classical Hatha yoga period of time, between 1100-1700CE, asana and postures were used to be prepare the body for deeper practices such as Pranayama, Meditation, and Mudras as well as promoting general health and wellbeing, with some rather outlandish claims about curing disease.
Nowadays, this might still be the case. Sitting in meditation in a "traditional" sense, cross legged on the floor, can be quite demanding on our rather stiff and un-flexible bodies. So if we start a meditation or pranayama practice in this way, the main thought that might be crossing our mind is just how uncomfortable we are, which is not what we want. I'd also like to stipulate here that there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing these practices seated in a comfortable way, on a chair, or a sofa, or even lying down. The only problem with lying down, is that it can be quite easy to drift of to sleep and lose focus, depending on what meditation practice you might be doing.
The thing is, everybody is different, and what we want of our practice will be different from person to person, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. The only thing I like to install, is for you to get clear on why you want to practice physical yoga, and make sure the reason has a healthy foundation, for example for better physical, mental, and spiritual well being, as opposed to feeling like you need to change the way you are.
Yoga is about self acceptance.
Understanding that you are enough exactly as you are.
Building this deeper connection with your self, allows you to become more present with yourself also. In being more present and connected with yourself, you can become more present and connected with not only the people in your life, but every other aspect of your life. Which truly is a gift in itself. To be able to experience moments of joy, and emotion fully, with attention and real feeling.
Maybe you also want to just practice yoga because you like to move your body, and if that is enough of an intention for you in itself, then that's absolutely great, and stick with that.