Guest Post by Spice Sadhaka
“There’s no correct asana, only the right one.”
We need to personalize our yoga practices, learn from multiple sources and teachers, and get new inspiration for one’s own yoga journey.
There is no one way to practise asana
There is no one way to practise asana (and no single path to the blissful absorption of yoga). In our physical practice, we need to honour the fact that we are each a unique physical and emotional being, and know that our personal histories leave marks on our minds, bodies and spiritual selves. We need to take very individual paths to find the right yoga for ourselves. There is no ‘correct’ yoga; there is only the ‘right’ yoga for us at each point in time. One season we retreat into contemplative, restorative yoga, another, we prefer being heavy on ashtanga.
Yoga is the beautiful ever-changing mind-body dance we make to keep everything in balance – a more active power yoga flow practice to kill our lethargy, a slow hatha to calm the hyper-stressed mind. As long as we really PAY ATTENTION to ourselves, we will know how we need to practise whenever we practise, to keep things in equipoise.
There is no perfect asana. In fact, purist ‘alignment’ and ‘adjustments’ is not fashionable in my books. Yoga has to serve the individual; the individual cannot be forced and ‘adjusted’ into a fixed yoga frame and alignment. In a class of 20 people, there should be 20 variations of the same asana. So don’t worry if your pose does not look like the one performed right next to you. It should be different, because you are not the same person as Ms hot yoga pants, right? (By the way, if you catch yourself noticing Ms hot yoga pants next time, it’s a timely reminder to concentrate on your personal practice!).
Suzee Grilley expounds this very well through Yin Yoga and emphasizes that “your body needs your yoga”.
Drawing Inspiration from Different Teachers
The emphasis of a pose in any particular class can be quite different e.g. the forward fold can be practised with a round back or straight back, depending on whether you want to work on hamstrings or back flexibility. Be open to these modifications suggested by different teachers, and practise in a way that is nourishing and therapeutic for you as your mind and body changes over time. I love it when a teacher shares another approach for entering into an asana, or working differently with it. Some teachers have fantastic verbal cues that take your attention to different parts of your practice.
Additionally, it is useful to go through an intensive Yoga Teacher Training Retreat, to understand the fundamentals of yoga practice and philosophy through deep immersion. This gives you the tools and perspectives to take different teachers’ “instructions” in class more as “suggestions”, and from there, consider how you can use them in your practice. Knowledge also empowers. Many practitioners who have the knowledge of the potential contraindications of each pose and a keener intuition honed through their teacher training experience often do their own variations in my class!
How should it feel when I am practising right?
There is such a thing as the ideal energetic alignment. The ideal alignment encourages energy flow and a harmonious relationship between mind, body and soul. The right asana variation for you should feel wonderfully energizing, and is challenging and nourishing at the same time. This is felt internally by the practitioner, and barely noticeable to an observer. It might not even look beautiful as we would imagine how a particular pose should look. It is just what feels most appropriate and most energetic to you during that session.
Up the ante
We also need asana variations to challenge ourselves continually. Once the body is so nimble (and/or strong) for basic versions of the asanas, it becomes very easy for the mind to wander off (to Ms hot yoga pants…). That’s when we should modify the practice. As we up the ante, we remain engaged and absorbed, and remain in practice mode. This is all the more reason to explore different schools and lineages, different instructors’ styles, and define your own yoga practice from there.
May you be confident in your personal practice!
Other References: The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, T.K.V. Desikachar, 1995, Inner Traditions International, Rochester.
Ling (aka Spice Sadhaka) is a yoga master trainer and teacher mentor. She is a Yoga Alliance 500-hour credentialed teacher although she prefers not to be called a teacher as “personal experience is the only true teacher”. A former triathlete, she uses yoga to help others to be peak performers in life. She is founder of the Outta Hatha pop-up yoga project and also specially curated Glo-Yoga, a dynamic yogi light art installation, for Asia’s sustainable light art festival, i Light Marina Bay. Join Ling at the upcoming Sattva Retreats – a yoga for impact platform for practitioners to work in an immersive environment whilst bringing positive impact to local communities. Follow her Mindful Monday for powerful intention-setting messages and Facebook feed for weekly yoga Thursday Tune-ups and inspiration.