The practice of the 1st Series of Ashtanga Yoga is supposed to heal the body, purify it and restore a state of our natural and maximum potential.
There are two situations when variants of Asana get adapted:
– When the body cannot do the full version of the Asana and requires doing it step by step. In this case, the body goes through the stages of Asana before achieving its final version. It applies to people with various health conditions or disabilities, people after accidents and injuries, etc. In such cases, subsequent elements of Asana are introduced gradually – one by one, step by step – and modified to the body’s current abilities and therapeutic needs of a person.
– When we have already gone through a long process of achieving the Asana and learned its steps (mainly concerning teachers), so we can now support yoga students to deepen the Asana in their bodies. In this case, we focus on strengthening particular elements of the Asana necessary to achieve its final version. We strengthen, open up, and split the work into specific parts and stages. Then we combine them back so that students can understand the essence of the Asana. Such work is also helpful when we feel stuck in our yoga practice that is not developing or do not know which direction our practice should take.
The Asana’s variant should be temporary.
Adapting a variant is supposed to deepen the Asana and help understand how it works. Another reason is to help achieve the Asana for those who, at the moment, cannot do its final version due to, e.g., body condition. disease.
Regular, mindful, and proper practice remains a basis for the rest of the yoga students.
Additionally, to gain a deeper understanding of the Asana, you can carefully do it not once but three times. Repeating Asana allows us to focus on particular aspects and deeply explore them naturally, intuitively, or with the assistance of a teacher.
Working with variants is like going off-trail when hiking in the mountains. As long as we see the trail, we are close to it. But we lose it if we go too far or forget about it for a while. Sometimes too much of our attention is drawn to something that, from a longer perspective, turns out to be unimportant. The problem arises when we no longer have anything to relate to. The reference point is the ‘lost track’, and it is hard to find it back and return to it.
The way back can be a long process of restoring the original patterns and getting rid of new ones we unconsciously acquired while looking for solutions and losing awareness. In such a situation, frustration and resignation can arise.
Developing good patterns from the beginning is always much easier than eliminating old habits and introducing new, correct ones. It is hard to unlearn and provide a new one when our body and mind are accustomed to a given movement or pattern. The old pattern will still stick around for a long time somewhere in the movement while we practice.
Therefore, scheming, looking for variants where it is enough to practice and confront the blockages and weaknesses of your body, consciously and carefully going through each stage of healing, is only an expression of subconscious resistance to the real work.
First, get your body used to the new position, start breathing full ujjayi breath in it, apply bandhas, do it thousands of times, and only then look for new variants. Create the basis of a valid reference point.
Asanas must go through their stages of maturation. Our task is to explore them and get to know them. We should experience Asana when we are weak or tired and when full of energy, when it is cold and when it is warm, when it is wet and when it is dry, when we had a good sleep and when we had a hard night, when we are sick or just starting catching a cold, when something is wrong and when everything is fine. This way, we get to know Asana not as a body position but as its action. This action penetrates us in a specific way that we ‘taste’ and consolidate through systematic practice. It requires working with the breath and directed understanding and mindfulness.
This way, we gain knowledge through deeper experience, not just superficially. Posture – Asana has its primary meaning, and it has its qualities. We gain a stable reference point when we get to know them and get rooted in them. The entire function of the Asana must be fulfilled. Traditionally, it took a long time for a student to master and ground the basics of the practice before moving on.
Often, when something is just about to happen in our body, in the basic version adapted for us, we start to relax and breathe instead of staying longer and touching whatever is hidden behind this Asana. Our mind already wants something else and is looking for a new variant. The mind works just like that; when it starts touching our entire being, this essence of ourselves beyond built-up patterns, it starts to run away or get bored (which is also a form of escape). Then there is a need to jump into something new – a new variant, a new sequence, a ‘new yoga.’
Unfortunately, the new variant of action is most often the one that reduces the effect of change instead of leading to Asana as our new attitude (withdraws from the point where the transformation is about to complete) or is heading in a direction different from the one that would lead to Asana as our new posture. But it gives us a sense of going further and gaining what is ahead – the new yoga postures.
In this case, the awareness of the pattern about to dissolve and the one about to take place also escapes. The work, the way yoga understands it, was not done – the Asana’s function is not achieved.
The variant or modification of the Asana should have a purpose related to developing its areas, not just satisfying the needs of the bored or frustrated mind.
Ashtanga practice is difficult and requires patience and a little trust in the method that has been proved by so many generations. It leads us to borderline moments (sometimes mental limitations), to our places deeply hidden inside, which we are afraid to touch.
Each time you go through them with a conscious breath and a careful, trained mind, you can tame them and, after a long practice, simply dissolve them.
Isn’t that the purpose of Ashtanga practice?