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Religiousness in Yoga Part 7: Improvisation in Asana

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Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

… As we continue āsana practice using a variety of postures and breathing in a planned sequence, somehow we get used to the routine. Gradually our attention to our practice decreases … This, then, is a reason for improvisation, to bring a new quality of attention and a sense of discovery to our practice.

… If we are doing āsanas and the mind continues to wander, we are not doing the āsanas, only our bodies are doing them … There is a need to focus the mind and this happens automatically when there is attention and discovery.

Another reason for improvisation is physical improvement … Improvisation can help solve a physical problem and can also us to avoid duḥkha. What might be good or possible for one person can have a negative effect on another. We must carefully consider a person’s condition and then improvise so that he or she might gain something without getting into trouble. That explains why, in our practice classes, we suggest different things for different people.

One last reason for improvisation is efficiency, to get the maximum results through minimum effort … If we know how to do a posture in a intelligent way, we can achieve the most beneficial results from that posture …

The easiest way to improvise is to modify the āsana … attention is placed on different areas or needs .. variations … help give everyone a sense of discovery. If we modify a posture we can see how it affects the different parts of our bodies.

Another way of improvising is to modify our breathing. For example, we can control the breath to make an inhalation equal to an exhalation … We can make the time of inhalation equal to the time of holding the breath or we can make the time of exhalation equal to that of holding the breath, or any number of variations.

… Also, what we do before a posture can determine where the action will be felt. Often people say they feel nothing in a posture. They want to feel something in their muscles and they think nothing is happening. To assist people in learning to feel, we can change a technique or being with an opposite posture before the main movement. This will assure them that something is really happening.

One more way of improvisation is to shift our attention during a posture to different parts of the body …

There are two ways that we do postures. We can do a posture dynamically, that is to repeat the movement ,and we can do it statically, that is to stay in a posture. Within these types, the following variations are possible:

(1) Free breathing. Inhalation and exhalation as long as possible using the throat restriction.

(2) Making the inhalation equal to the exhalation …

(3) Making the exhalation twice the length of the inhalation.

(4) Holding the breath after inhalation.

(5) Holding the breath after exhalation.

(6) Holding the breath after both inhalation and exhalation.

(7) Inhalation, exhalation, then doing a pose while holding the breath …

(8) … to reverse the normal breath movement patterns

… Improvisation should not be done at random … Generally, improvisation should be done only when it is warranted … Otherwise … we will be more distracted than helped by improvisation.

… Normally, we breath in a certain way beginning in the chest and moving to the abdomen. Inhalation involves the upper portion of the torso, the chest and diaphragm, as well as the spine. Exhalation, in terms of movement, involves the contraction of the abdomen. If we want to increase the effect on the chest we concentrate on the inhalation. If we want to increase the effect on the abdomen or stomach, we concentrate on exhalation … if someone has a weak heart we never hold the breath after inhalation because it builds up pressure and increases anxiety. For such persons, we usually establish an inhalation/exhalation ratio of one to two.

… Generally it is all right to move from Yoga practice to other activities provided we rest in between. Moving from other exercises to āsanas presents problems. The whole attitude when we run or play … is different from when we to āsanas … we might not be present in our practice. Physiological problems could also arise. In some sports … muscles are always contracted. If we immediately try to do stretching or bending backward exercises we will develop cramps. If we must do āsanas after physical activities, take a long break. We should avoid sandwiching any other activity into a planned sequence of āsana practice.

… Generally anything before prāṇāyāma is all right provided there is an adequate break for transition … If we are going to engage in a competitive sport after prāṇāyāma, we must allow an adequte transition because this breathing practice makes us calm. We have to boost ourselves a little bit before we do vigorous exercise … On the other hand, a performer who might have stage fright will find that controlled breathing is very helpful … a very relaxing prāṇāyāma calms the nerves.

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