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Asana Practice: A psychological and physiological approach

This moment is the best the world can give: The tranquil blossom on the tortured stem. – Edna St. Vincent Millay

Physical exercise ranging from gym workout to sports and yoga practice, all place the body under a physical condition where the sympathetic nervous system is switched on to fight-and- flight mode. 

Patanjali, the author of Yoga Sutra describes the attainment of asana practice in sutra 2-48 “From this(the asana practice), one is not afflicted by the dualities of the opposites”. In physical yoga practice, such opposites can be understood as tension and relaxation, or firmness and calmness. Simon Borg-Olivier, one of the founders of Yoga Synergy often speaks about too much tension prevents the circulation of energy and information. And tension is a sign of mental attachment, and with persistent tension one eventually breaks, either mentally or physically.

On the other hand, when one is too relaxed, one loses sight of one’s purpose, drifting in the stream of external occasions and accidents, and internally one is at the mercy of the fluctuation of the mind. To put it simply, too much relaxation makes the mind dull, and such stagnancy also hinders circulation. Yoga, from one point of view, is a process of balancing and rebalancing, as Patanjali defines asana as a posture that is firm but calm “sthiram sukham asanam”. It indicates a coexistence of two opposites, or Yin and Yang.

Yin Yoga, although has many shortcoming to be considered a complete practice, is valuable in our modern age where things are simply rushed through. During Yin yoga practice one is given much more time to bring the body to a posture, and the amount of stress and relaxation is closely monitored and adjusted through out in order to maintain a relative balance. In addition, in Yin yoga one not only learns to bring relaxation while experiencing stress, one also learns to accept and live with this stress.

Just like a grain of sand that was caught in the oyster eventually forms a pearl, with right amount of stress(provided one is not consumed by it), the moment is deepened and one’s state of consciousness is transformed.

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