The Yoga Bug

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I do yoga on my own, not being terribly motivated by classes. I’m one of those characters who prefers unnarrated discovery. There are, however, a lot of good reasons to start out with a teacher.

One is you can waste a lot of time doing things wrong.

Another is it’s harder to put together an entire yoga session unless you’ve had a knowledgeable teacher who started you off with a basic routine that you could manage, if just barely, and that leads you through suites of related asanas in a directed and helpful fashion.

I’ve become convinced that you don’t know yoga, you practice yoga, in the same way as all those action heroes who supposedly “know” karate but can never be seen to practice it. “Know” is just the wrong verb. I prefer “practice,” in both its senses: keeping a regular workout schedule, and as a way of life, a practice.


(As Wallace Stevens meant the word in Waving Adieu, Adieu, Adieu)

You do not ask for heaven;
you take the love you’re given.
You eat your daily bread.
You’re glad you’re not the head
of a nation, bank, or church,
especially since research
would indicate that you’re
corruptible, impure,
and made of passing stuff.
The practice is enough.

 That’s how I mean “practice.”

As I was saying, it helps to have a teacher to guide you. I have a sequence I follow three days a week (along with some free-wheeling work on my off days), and although it has gone through many modifications and revisions, it derives from the basic sequence my original teacher, Kirsten Mustain, taught me in a beginning class. She was always careful to think through the session beforehand, arranging a sequence that would both feel natural flow and be helpful.

I average between eight and ten hours a week, I’d guess, which means I get pretty used to the activity. Time is not the point, though. Doing yoga to the greatest purpose is the point. I suspect the masters would look askance at someone who required so much time to get the benefits of the practice. I expect they can drop into a given asana or come out of it with hardly any hestitation. Me, I shake and tremble and strain. Got a lot to learn.

My sequence for some time involved preliminary chants and asanas, and then a series of warm-up asanas. In my head I grouped these sets together.

The next batch consisted of standing asanas, sitting concave stretches, and sitting convex stretches. (By “concave” and “convex,” I mean whether the torso is curved forward or curved backward. It’s not a pure distinction, because some of the asanas in that batch involved twists.

I would conclude with a set of three reps of what I call “hip-openers.”

So my yoga session divided, at the time, into three distinct sessions. Not sure why my visual imagination went that way, but I imagined the three groups together as an insect—head, thorax, abdomen.

That, by the way, is why I call this paricular column The Yoga Bug. Probably not what you saw coming.

I have no idea what the legs were or the antennae or anything like that. I got no further than drawing the bug in one of my many and various journals.

I was trying to describe it analytically, fit all its “parts” together in my mind. (I have a near-compulsion to put what I know in some sort of order.) But trying to analyze my yoga session, I always lost my place, wandered off into other notions.  I recognized all the parts, and when they might come.

I began to wonder just what an asana was. Some of the poses had left and right versions, mirror-symmetrical. Was I doing two asanas, or just two halves of a single asana? Sometimes I did reps, usually three. Was each rep an asana, even though I held each for much less time than I held the single pose when I wasn’t doing reps? Or were the three together considered one asana.

Questions like that.

Asanas are the very basis of hatha yoga, and I was clearly gaining flexibility and resilience, but it was becoming less and less clear to me exactly what an asana was. How could I be doing asanas without knowing what they are?

And that’s my subject for next time: Wotsa nossana?

What, that is to say, is an asana?

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