During this last round of Flow Teacher Training as I was working my way through instruction on how to assist students in various yoga asanas (poses), one of the trainees asked a question that I’d not been asked before. She said, “Cory, is it possible to assist yourself?”. I didn’t have to ponder the question long, the answer was and is an emphatic “yes!”.
Physically assisting practitioners into poses is a passion of mine and is an important focus of the JIvamukti method. I see it as an extension of my ability to teach because in addition to providing verbal instruction, it allows for 1:1 interaction to find deeper expression of the poses – the asanas. The word “asana” means “seat” and is the 3rd limb of the Ashtanga 8-limb system provided to us by a sage named Patanjali over 2000 years ago.
At its most basic level this yoga asana practice that we do is for one reason, to develop the ability to still our body and our mind and take a seat (the ultimate asana) that allows us to eliminate physical movement as much as possible. That stillness is conducive to cultivation of the 6th, 7th and 8th limbs – dharana (concentration, connecting with an object of focus); dhyana (meditation, merging with that object of focus) and finally, samadhi (the ultimate state of yoga that is often described as “bliss” wherein we move beyond our body and mind to connect with our higher SELF).
Looking at it from a slightly different perspective, we do the yoga asana practice to develop and maintain a healthy, able body that supports engagement in the 1st and 2nd limbs – yama and niyama, the ethical principles of yoga and of life itself. Sri K Patthabi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, was known to say that asana is the 1st limb, because developing our most healthy, able body helps us to effectively practice the yamas and niyamas. Yama means “restraint” and Patanjali listed 5 ways in which the yogi is to practice restraint: ahimsa (don’t harm other beings with your thoughts, words or deeds); satya (be truthful); asteya (don’t steal, including our most precious commodity – time); brahmacharya (don’t misuse sex); and aparigraha (don’t take more than you need). Niyama means “observance” and these are practices undertaken to care for yourself. The niyamas include: sauca (cleanse and purify the mind and body); santosha (cultivate contentment); tapas (self-discipline, work, internal FIRE); svadyaya (self-study, contemplation of your spiritual Self); and ishvara pranidhana (devotion, offering your efforts and the results of your efforts to something higher than your self).
So, when I was asked if it’s possible to assist one’s self, my affirmative answer was based upon the context of cultivating a capable, uplifted, supported seat that is in some way aligned with all of the above aims. Each yoga pose can serve to tap into our internal, intrinsic being to create an energetic image of our self and Self. For example, when you take Warrior 2 it offers strength, readiness and confidence to your self, while raising your consciousness to reach out and connect with your higher, larger than life, Self. This happens with greatest impact when the pose is grounded, stable, steady, energetically uplifting and whole because such an established foundation positions you to experience these elevated qualities and let go of doubts and insecurities. There are actions we can take, ranging from subtle (relaxing the eyes) to gross (repositioning a bent knee) that will deepen and affirm this experience and allow us to explore further into our own Self.
The next time you step to the mat, allow yourself the creative latitude to assess your seat, your connection to the earth, and begin to explore the infinite possibilities that lie within you. Help yourself connect with yourSELF!
*To investigate this self-assisting concept further with me, check out my workshop – “Help Your SELF” on April 9th at 10:30 am.