Many of us practice yoga asana / postures on a regular basis, without ever really connecting to ‘what a postures is’, and why we practice them in the first place.
A yoga asana is a set of muscular contractions and relaxations. Figuring out how to use our muscles accordingly in each posture, is the goal of a physical practice. Once we find the correct musculature in the posture, we breath, focus our gaze, and enter stillness. This is where and when the therapy occurs!
Each posture is different, hence the body will have a different shape in each one. Where we get into trouble is beginning to think, consciously or not, that simply getting our body into the shape of a posture is the goal. This becomes a problem when we look like we are doing a posture, but we don’t have correct control over the musculature of the pose. Specific muscles need to contract, and others to relax, in order to create the necessary compression, stretch, or twist that brings the therapeutic benefit.
This often happens in a forehead to knee pose, for example. We become focused on touching our forehead to our knee rather than being aware of the necessary muscle control that rounds our spine and makes this happen in the first place. (Contracting the front of the abs, relaxing the lower back muscles, and keeping the shoulders down and away from our ears!). Correctly getting the forehead to the knee strengthens the abdominal and thigh muscles, squeezes and flushes out the gall bladder, pancreas and spleen, as well as the uterus and ovaries, and increases flexibility of the sciatic nerve.
Building your practice upon the principle of muscle control is going to bring you tremendous benefit. The shape of the posture isn’t worth making if your body is not working properly. Yoga Guru Bishnu Ghosh explains, “Controlling of any muscle is nothing but to contract and relax the muscles without any movement of the limbs or contraction of any other muscle.”