We look at someone performing an asana and ignore it. We look at someone else performing the same asana and adore it – for its grace, beauty and perfection. What follows next automatically is, “Wow”. Ever wondered, what exactly would have gone into creating that ‘Wow’ effect? An asana is a work of perfect coordination between the Gravitational pull, Muscular control & correct Breathing. These three components are automatically involved, whether with awareness or without. And it is this ‘awareness factor’ that adds to that ‘wow’ effect. Any sport or any movement as simple as sitting, standing, walking, running or the transition from sitting to standing or standing to sitting, needs presence of these three components for its execution.
It is the coordinated, consolidated, integrated and synchronized act of Gravity, Muscles & Breathing that adds that ‘extra’ zing to an “ordinary” asana thereby making it look “extraordinary”.
What has Gravity got to do with an Asana?
“Gravity provides foundation for any movement”
It is this pull of gravity that has kept us grounded to the Earth. Otherwise, we would have been most probably floating in the air and almost unable to perform any such act. Whether we are sitting, standing, lying down or moving in any manner, gravity remains our base.
Gravity plays a dominant role while practicing Hatha Yoga too. Our every single movement is influenced by the Earth’s gravitational power. While performing an asana, especially an asymmetrical posture (like Uthita Trikonasana , Parivrtta Trikonasana etc), it is common for one part of the body to move in one side while the other to the opposite side. As a result, bulk of body weight may have a preponderance of gravity whereas the rest of the body weight may struggle hard to remain fixed to the floor. In the former case, gravity is playing a supportive role but in the latter, one needs to activate antigravity muscles to get a firm grounding. ‘Getting into the posture’ and ‘retaining the posture’ is due to working with the force and pull of gravity. And it is not applicable to asymmetrical posture alone but to all kind of postures, for example, Bhujanasana, a prone position in which we lift the upper part of the body away from the floor using the force of gravity.
“Muscles move the body” – How?
Muscular tissue made up of muscle cells contract and thereby bring about movement.
Every single movement during the performance of an asana – twisting, turning upside down, moving dynamically or holding a posture etc. is possible only due to our muscles. There is a prevailing misconception amongst general public that Yoga is all about flexibility. It’s common to hear, ‘I cannot do Yoga because I am not flexible’. Contrary to this argument, excess flexibility may lead to injuries and may prove to be a hindrance in the way of muscular development / toning up. It does not mean that those who are flexible do not use muscles. Muscles move the body. But in case of a semi flexible / super flexible body, it is the flexibility which takes the lead (unless performed in a focused manner using the muscles consciously) undermining the optimal involvement of muscles.
Muscles are stimulated to contract and create the right tension during movement and even during holding the posture. It is this ‘right’ tension which brings the firmness in the body and thereby the optimal stability. Flexibility makes a movement supple, but moving in and out of a posture and holding a posture gracefully, with conscious awareness of the usage of each and every muscle, is what sculpts the body and brings that “toned up” look.
I am breathing, I am alive
No, we do not realize the significance of the abovementioned statement until we are gasping for breath. Respiration stops and so does Life. It means we are uninterruptedly breathing 24/7. BUT, do we breathe right or to be more precise, ‘have we ever taken a second to check our quality of breath’? Unknowingly though, we have turned into a shallow breather over years.
Any action of ours turns into an enjoyable, beautiful & a successful action, the minute we perform that in sync with natural breathing. The job of inhalation (while performing a posture) is to lift and create the right tension in the body, for stability. In fact, in some of the postures, once you have reached your limit of lifting with inhalation, exhalation helps take you further into that posture (e.g. back bending).
Let us take a tour of PARIVRATTA (revolved / turned around) TRIKONASANA (triangle), to understand the enhanced role of Gravity, Muscles & Breathing pattern. Parivratta Trikonasana is a standing asymmetrical complex posture. Like any other posture, it too needs balance, strength, flexibility all incorporated in the right proportion to get “that” perfect stability.
Gravity & Muscle Analysis
- Muscles initiate movement. Moments after that, gravity takes the lead. In Parivratta Trikonasana, the pull of gravity allows the upper part of the body to drop down towards right easily. For this movement to happen gracefully and to retain the stability, we need to maintain the right tension in the body. In the absence of right muscular tension, the upper part of the body will collapse down to the right without control due to the pull of gravity.
- Right palm, pressed against the gravity helps push the upper part of the body and the left arm away from the gravity, thereby, creating the right firmness in the upper segment of our body.
- Since the posture demand taking the upper body weight to the right and the left foot is placed towards the right side of the body, the latter remains firm on the floor due to the maximum body weight in that side. But holding on to the right leg (especially pressing the right heel on the floor), which is placed at the left side of the body, can be quite a challenge. As a result, it is important to activate the anti-gravity muscles and the joints, to get that grip. This will happen by lengthening the right leg, pushing the right thigh at the back and then pressing the right heel firmly against the floor.
Role of Breathing
The moment breathing happens flawlessly and rhythmically with the movement, you can be assured of treading on the path of perfection. However, there are two aspects to this.
You are performing the posture mechanically without any awareness.
You are reaching the stage where your consistent effort has started shaping your practice into perfection. Your body is pretty much in control and peaceful bliss with uninterrupted breathing.
Coming back to posture:
- You are side bending to the right with exhalation. Long exhalation can help you deep into side bending.
- The thoracic region (the chest area) has a tendency to collapse forward in this posture. We use long inhalation and during the inhalation externally rotate our chest to bring it in alignment with the rest of the body. The moment your inhalation is over, you seal your body at the same spot with an exhalation.
So, the next time you choose to practice an asana, pay keen attention to these three critical elements and feel that difference which had kept you away from ‘Perfection’. You can check the method, benefits and contraindications of performing this posture at Parivratta Trikonasana.
Shammi Gupta, founder of Shammi’s Yogalaya holds an MA in Yoga Shastra, is a certified Yogic Therapist and Naturopath, has completed an Advanced Yoga Course and holds a Diploma in Yoga Education from Mumbai University. She is a certified trainer from American College of Sports Medicine and holds an MBA in HR & MBA in Finance from The University of Akron, Ohio, USA. She conducts Health Awareness Workshops for Corporates, Yogasana Workshops for Athletes and Yoga Therapy Workshops on different medical issues for patients. Among the celebrities Shammi trains are eminent personalities from the film and television industry and corporates