deepening the meditative experience of asana practiceby Rob Lieblein December 16, 2014 0 comments
In the previous article on asana as a meditation practice, we examined the willful nature of what Kripalu yoga refers to as Stage One practice. In Stage Two, we begin to work with the balance of will and surrender, taking us through deeper layers of the meditative nature of a pose.
Stage Two is about holding poses for extended periods of time. Depending on the experience level of the practitioner, that holding can last anywhere from a couple of minutes to 20 minutes or longer.
As we hold a pose for such long periods, our bodies and minds inevitably bump up against a variety of challenges, creating opportunities for us to meet those challenges skillfully (or not) and in the process learn more about ourselves. As Yogi Amrit Desai, the founder of Kripalu Yoga, says:
“In the second stage you learn to withdraw your outgoing, scattered attention (pratyahara) and focus it inward, anchoring it in the bodily sensations (dharana/concentration). This enables you to penetrate into the deeper layers of stress where you encounter undigested mental and emotional traumas and painful experiences of the past.”
Some of the asanas typically practiced in Stage Two are Tadasana (arms raised overhead), Uttanasana (forward bend), Standing Yoga Mudra, Setu Bhandasana (bridge), and Kapotasana (pigeon).
A Stage Two holding involves a series of steps that have become the hallmark of the Kripalu tradition: breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow (BRFWA). After deliberately entering the posture and finding your first edge, take yourself through each of those elements…
- Breathe – let each inhalation and exhalation connect you to the flow of energy that sustains the pose.
- Relax – soften muscles and release tension around mental activity, allowing the energy of the pose to flow through blocks in the body and/or mind.
- Feel – notice the details of sensations that arise in the body, as well as memories and emotions that surface; tune in to the visceral part of the experience.
- Watch – become a compassionate, accepting witness to what is unfolding in the body and mind.
- Allow – let go of the need to understand or interpret what is happening. Instead, be present for each moment as it arises and passes without judgment.
You may need to come back to any or all of these elements repeatedly throughout the holding, and they will help sustain you as the sensations arise and you are tempted to bail out of the pose. This is a crucial point in the pose; when sensation shifts into high gear you may start saying all kinds of things to yourself that reinforce long-established beliefs about your limitations. In addition to the BRFWA steps, you can incorporate micro-movements into the pose, or sustain the flow of energy with ujjayi breathing or kapalabhati.
The practice then becomes learning to let those old stories slide on by and let a new narrative about yourself develop. This is called “riding the wave of sensation,” and if you can hang on beyond that point of deeply wanting to quit, you often find that the intensity softens and you can settle into a comfortable holding. It’s a bit like the “second wind” distance runners experience.
Come out of a Stage Two pose slowly and mindfully, and allow time to be present for whatever shows up in the moments after you release. It can be quite cathartic as deeply buried emotions and tensions are allowed to surface.
You don’t have to practice Kripalu Yoga to experience the meditative qualities of Stage Two. Be creative; find ways to incorporate longer holdings using the language and principles of whatever tradition works best for you. And please share your thoughts in the comments section below.