There’s a lot going on in the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. Breath, bandhas, drishti, movement, focus, alignment, jumpbacks, jumpthroughs and more fill the long and rather complicated sequence.
Because of this, sometimes I find it is helpful to set one particular point of focus for my asana practice. This doesn’t rule out the other factors of course, because they are all in relationship with one another as I move through the sequence. In fact, in seems to enhance the quality of my practice because having one thing to focus on gives me a better chance of finding any focus at all in my crazy monkey-mind.
I remember when I first started practicing I often chose just to think about drishti. This encouraged me in finding a sense of centered calmness within all the movement. My natural orientation is to become completely engrossed in the postures and their alignment (I’ve spent enough time in Iyengar studios to be a bit obsessive in this regard). It’s more important for me these days to focus on the more subtle aspects of the practice – in particular, the energetic movements and the orientation given by the bandhas. Just focusing on the alignment puts me too much in my head, and then I lose touch with my breath.
I know this isn’t exactly profoundly groundbreaking stuff I’m sharing with you, but this has been the reoccurring theme of my practice recently. In particular, the feeling that has been so present with me is a deep conscious engagement at my center by tapping into the “flying up” sensation of uddiyana bandha. I’m really tuning into the sensations in my entire abdomen, from the drawing back of my lower belly, to the tight lifting of my solar plexus area and this point of focus makes dramatic shifts in the ease, fluidity and strength of my yoga asanas.
When I practice Ashtanga, I like to visual and sense that every motion is initiated and activated by this place of power at my center. It’s more than just engaging my core and physically lifting the abdominal muscles in and up, it’s an actual conscious orientation for guiding my movements. By turning my attention to my center, the dantien, to hara, to the 3rd chakra, it becomes like a physical axis that each posture builds upon with integrity. The more attention I can bring to my center, the more automatic my mula bandha becomes as well.
The more connected in at my center I am, the stronger my practice is, and the more beneficial it is for any lingering pain or tenderness I have in my lower back and SI joint. I like to imagine that it is the point of strength at my solar plexus that swooshes my hips back into downward dog from up dog. I like to feel my uddiyana bandha lift my heart up to updog from chaturanga.
In fact, every motion benefits from this squeezing, lifting and simple awareness at my center.
It makes the difference between a clunky foot swinging forward into warrior in a Sun B to a direct and easy placement that moves all the way up to the rising heart and upwards reaching arms. It’s the thing that facilitates a soft precise landing in chaturanga, alert, solid and ready for the next move. In fact, I think that Sun B is the perfect place to start really tuning into this engagement because it’s so essential for graceful and fluid movement. Surya Namaskar A works too, but I find that I’m still just waking up and getting a stretch in my first few salutations, whereas the B variation is when I start “working.”
Uddiyana bandha is the deciding factor for a smooth graceful jumpthrough versus a loud, messy baseball slide. Without this awareness of moving from center, when I jump into a posture (as I do into my Standing Postures – I am a student of DG’s after all! We are jumpers!) my feet land out of sync with each other, sending a disharmonious shock through my limbs and a sense of unsteadiness in my posture.
By physically moving from “center”, my asana practice supports my mental and emotional journey of finding center. Orienting my awareness in this way, I have a greater opportunity in accessing the sthira and sukha, the steadiness and sweetness, in my practice and in myself.
Just a few simple practice thoughts from my yoga mat.
Love and Blessings,