23 Mar Lessons from the yoga mat #4: asana of the computer
“What,” asked my lecturer, “Is the difference between the posture of a pianist and the posture of someone working away at their computer?” Each essentially make the same shape with their bodies but the quality of that shape is completely different.
A conversation ensued about the difference between a pose, a position and a posture. Can you tell when you are posing as if a yoga practitioner (perhaps so that your teacher thinks you are following instructions); when you are in position ready to practice; and when your body and mind are naturally reflected in your posture to show that you are a yoga practitioner?
Posing in yoga shapes
Pose: A way of standing or sitting, especially in order to be photographed, painted, or drawn: photographs of boxers in ferocious poses (Oxford Dictionary)
Yoga postures are called asana. You will recognise in your body that there is a difference between the posture of the Asana and posing in a shape that looks like an Asana.
For example, I could heave myself up into a backbend, holding my breath as I concentrate hard to hold the position. I would be making the same shape as fellow students doing Urdhva Dhanurasana (wheel), but it would be painful to watch, and probably painful to do.
When we ‘pose’ – be that as a musician, someone sitting at their desk or as a yoga practitioner doing a bendback – we often do it for the benefit of someone else. In yoga I commonly see this in students who think that they “should” be able to reach further or last longer or be stronger.
Sthira sukham asanam – a yoga posture is stable and comfortable (The Yoga Sutras)
Sthira Sukham are the qualities that transform our yoga pose or position into the graceful posture of a Yoga Asana. They are translated as stability and comfort.
If, instead of forcing myself into a backbend, I connect with my breath, move with (rather than against) my breath, and use my strength in a gentle, mindful, balanced way, I have the space to find Sthira and Sukha.
Stability and comfort can feel quite different for each of us so we must learn to constantly find the balance for ourselves. You will recognise the difference between times your yoga teacher pushes you into a stretch beyond your limits that you are only too relieved to get out of, and the adjustment that allows you to gently push into your own limits.
When you are pushed beyond your limits your muscles will tighten to ‘protect’ you and you will hold your breath in an attempt to conserve energy. You may even find that your mind gets stressed.
When you work gently within your limits, you stay with your breath and to remain stable and comfortable. There is a very different quality to your practice and you will actually find that with time you can do more than if you tried to do things too early.
Taking it off the mat
What does it mean to take the concept of stable and comfortable off the mat and to your computer at work or to doing the dishes?
Yoga practice helps develop our proprioception. Practicing mindfully on the mat helps us be more aware of what our body is doing and what it needs so that we can be the same in our daily lives.
As we develop the capacity to adjust for ourselves, we are suddenly practising our own ergonomics. Guiding rules can help us correctly setting up desks and computers and there are experts who can tell us what to do, but the more we can feel and articulate what our body needs, the more those experts can apply the right rules in the right way to help us as a unique individual with a unique physiology.
As our awareness increases, we learn to do this for ourselves, and we also build up the strength, mobility and proprioception that lets our body protect us from injury.
As my lecturer said,
“If sitting at a desk is what you do all day then that is the Asana you must practice”.
Yoga mind – always
Posture: A particular approach or attitude. (Oxford Dictionary)
Transfer Sthira and Sukha away from the yoga mat and find stability and comfort in both your body and mind in the ordinary positions that you hold every day.
Bring a new quality to your presence and transfer every moment into conscious stability and comfort.