When asked when do we know that we are doing a yoga posture correctly Patthabi Jois responded "When the mind is quiet, the asana is correct."
The yoga sutras tell us that 'sthira sukham asanam' translated as 'yoga asana should be steady and comfortable', or more literally that 'asana should be grounded and with good space'. This sums up the aim of yoga, we are seeking a state of BODY and MIND that is steady and comfortable, with a sense of 'good space'.
When we are steady in body and breath, the mind becomes steady, of course a non-steady mind can send the body off balance - and our challenge is then to bring our mind back to where we are or could be physically rooted and let go of the wandering of the mind. This steadiness is what we mean by Sthiri, and from here we can find Sukha - the comfort or good space.
When body and mind are steady and comfortable, even when the body is challenged, we are in a state of asana. When the mind gets distracted by senses or the body starts to struggle because of sensations of discomfort, we should back off until we find the steadiness.
In the asana we should be enquiring 'do we feel rooted and from there where can I find the good space?'.
This is really rather different from simply stretching, or striving towards more length, a bigger stretch. Space without grounding isn't yoga, and grounding without space isn't yoga either. Space from a point of stable grounding is where we find peace in asana and life. I think we can all relate to how disconcerting it is to feel flighty, ungrounded and also how we cause ourselves problems by acting with fixed stubbornness.
Minimal Action Approaching asana with this focus on steadiness and ease, or good space, is aligned with a law of nature, known as the Principle of Minimal Action.
In asana if we add too much movement we lose our sense of confident stable grounding, our body and mind becomes unfocused, the mind becomes restless and we can become physically exhausted! It's a little like when we try hard to stay on the surface of the water, we sink but when we relax and give up we float.
When practicing each asana by easing into it without wasting energy through unnecessary movements we are aligned with our own nature and the flow of nature that we are part of.
When I enter asana I do so with the minimal movement possible, with no faffing. By keeping the movements throughout the practice minimal and focused the practice really is a flowing meditation perfectly balanced between grounding and space. This is why I tend to workshop asana one by one rather than lots of asana in one class, so that we can maintain the moving meditation.
When we practice with minimal movement the body is in a restful and regenerative mode, even during the Ashtanga yoga practice which to the observer seems high energy, the practice is restful and regenerative when we are moving with a balance of grounding and space, without unnecessary movements.
Enquiry into the Asana In the state of the asana we want to remain steady and comfortable, we might enquire as follows:-
Are we feeling grounded? If we are not we will want to work on that before we start to reach out from that state.
Is the breath steady? If not we will want to bring the asana back until it is..
Are we emotionally balanced? Is the mind steady?
Are we finding good space, or are we over-reaching compromising strength and grounding?
Is the mind accepting of where we are, or is it frustrated?
Are we aware of the whole body, or striving with one part? Is the effort even?
Are we adding unnecessary movements and why? Are we striving, that's another thought process!