Whether we are yoga practitioners or not, whether we meditate or not, or whether we even have spiritual inclinations or not; we’re all seeking balance on the human journey. We may not even be conscious that we are seeking balance. We are always trying to balance the different aspects of our lives like our diets, our professional ambitions, our love relationships, our family obligations et cetera. Nick Wallenda, the tight rope walker, isn’t the only human being trying to pull off the ultimate balancing act; we’re all engaged in this process every minute of our lives, even as we sleep.
Practicing yoga asana is not simply about fitness or achieving the perfect yoga butt. Creating balance and alignment with the universal life force, or prana, is what yoga asana is all about. Through asana practice we become aware of our internal biological gyroscope that is constantly orienting us to the flow of prana, our connection to unlimited energy. As we practice with awareness we develop extraordinary or even super normal sensitivity to the prana flowing through our bodies and how to refine our connection to the boundless source that powers the entire cosmos.
This may all sound rather esoteric or theoretical, but we can begin to understand this immediately when we practice poses like Warrior I and Warrior II. After we establish the basic architecture of the pose, we energize these asana by grounding through our feet and legs, lengthening through the torso and energizing the arms in various ways. These movements bring us awareness of our muscles, bones, joints, connective tissues, organs and glands. As we push down and out with our feet we feel the simultaneous engagement of our feet, ankles, and the muscles of the legs and pelvis. As we sustain the pose with focused breath we feel how the torso is centered over the pelvis, and how minute degrees of movement change the amount of energy required to continue the pose. Fatigue helps us define the balanced pose by encouraging us to recruit a concert of muscular support that balances the burden of gravity and teaches us how to access a more efficient flow of energy.
This is why B.K.S. Iyengar always insisted on proper architectural alignment in asana. Energy flows through the body most efficiently when the musculoskeletal system is posed in the proper geometric relationship to its connected members in its association with gravity. For example, in the warrior poses the most efficient alignment of the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (largest bone in the foreleg) is 90 degrees. If the knee is ahead of or behind the ankle, more energy will be need to sustain the pose. Try this out yourself and you’ll soon see how balancing the torso over the pelvis and aligning the knee over the ankle allow you to center your body and mind as you breathe with an easier flow of energy.
Architects and builders are quite aware of these principles of stability when they consider building design. Stress within a structure, or how energy flow is managed in a building or a human body, can be managed by efficiency in design or posture.
Our awareness and practice of these principles of alignment allow us to access what author Katherine Howe calls our “secret reservoir of power.” This is the power to have mastery over our minds and bodies, thoughts and emotions. As we practice we learn how to access prana from the air, water and food we ingest. We learn the alchemical magical art of transmuting what nourishes us into a state of balance that resides in the calm, blissful center of our souls.
In asana we are not just lumps of meat hanging unconsciously from our bones. We are attuning our individual frequency to the unlimited universal power source so we can be pipelines for prana flow. In so doing we increase our capacity for compassion and acceptance of ourselves and others. We build determination and perseverance. We become the kind of human beings who can be useful in this world so fraught with trial and difficulty.
This is why asana is so important. We are physical beings. As we attune our physical receiver to the eternal frequency we refine our ability to align ourselves with excellence, goodness and unlimited accomplishment.