Transition: A movement, development or evolution from one form to another.
It is easy to focus solely on the state of the asana in Ashtanga Yoga practice. The mind quickly attaches itself to the idea, energy, and shape of the posture and the body follows. Sometimes it does this so quickly that the simplest transition, or step, toward the glamour of the posture is ignored and glossed over carelessly.
If one were to remove all of the postures we hold for five or more breaths within the Ashtanga system we would see a sequence of a series of transitions. In my opinion, these transitions are elements of the practice that are often overlooked and overshadowed by the asanas we hold. I believe that these transitions if practiced and studied as diligently as the asanas hold the keys to harnessing the bandhas and further channeling the therapeutic aspects of the postures.
In Yoga Mala, Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois warns students to learn the practice under the guidance of a qualified teacher so that the benefits of the practice may be realized. He also states that when practiced properly the body becomes stronger and healthier where the postures are intended to do their work. He goes further to state that if practiced incorrectly parts that were supposed to be strengthened become weaker and from this disease ensues.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I rarely, almost never, discuss the bandhas or teach them outright to anyone unless it is in a workshop format or the student requires more focused work integrating them into practice for therapeutic purposes. I might have also said that the physical bandhas are always there. One just has to know where to look. They are constantly coming and going and changing in quality unless you’re dead.
Digest that last sentence for a moment…
Take a moment to consider the movement of the breath and the tension which ebbs and flows with every inhalation and exhalation. Each phase of the breath carries with it a constricting or controlled and measured release of that tension. The transitions from asana to asana perform a similar function in creating and releasing mental and physical tension for the posture that follows.
For example, when stepping or jumping to the side in preparation for Trikonasana or Parsvakonasana I see several common expressions of that simple movement. The student:
1. Steps to the side without paying attention to the feet and how they are aligned. The feet end up pointing out the sides a little or a lot.
2. Steps to the side and immediately turns the right foot out in preparation for the right side of the posture.
3. Steps to the side and doesn’t open the arms and goes down into the posture and then raises the left arm after lowering down to the right side.
4. The student finishes the right side, comes up and immediately moves the feet for the left side.
Stepping or jumping to the side may not sound important or glamorous. You won’t see anyone taking a picture “doing” that posture. You definitely won’t see it on the cover of a yoga book or magazine.
1. Step to the side without raising the arms but make sure the feet are aligned and facing forward. Notice what you feel or don’t feel in the abdomen and waist and the upper body. Step back to the front.
2. Now step to the side without raising the arms, make sure the feet are aligned and slowly raise the arms to the side. Notice how the raising of the arms begins to narrow the waist away from the lower body. The waist draws in from all sides, the rib cage rises, the chest expands and there is a feeling of tension and stability in the waist. Step back to the front.
3. This time step to the side but this time lift the arms out to the sides as you are stepping to the side. You’ll probably notice that the tension you felt along the waist and abdomen is further magnified when you raise the arms as you step to the side. Step back to the front.
4. Once again step to the side without raising the arms, and align the feet. This time allow either the right or left foot to point outward slightly and notice how that side of the abdomen sags. Turn the foot back in so it is facing forward. Do the same thing with the left side. Once again notice the sagging sensation along that side of the abdomen. Step back to the front.
5. Finally, step to the side while raising the arms to the side. Make sure the feet are aligned facing forward. Notice the extra tension in the waist and abdomen and the lift in the chest. Turn one foot out slightly and notice how that side softens and sags a little. Repeat for the other side. Notice how that waist draws in and becomes taut once again when you turn the foot back to the neutral starting position. Step back to the front.
Personally, I think that if the entry was not important it would not have the distinction of being counted as a vinyasa into and out of Trikonasana and Parsvakonasana. Furthermore, this simple movement can help bring awareness to the subtle lift (bandha) that is encouraged in asana practice. Stepping to the side isn’t just stepping to the side. There is an important physical and mental quality that is drawn into the body with this simple movement.
Many students find themselves searching or looking for the bandhas in their postures. If one knows where to look the bandhas are neatly tucked away into the transitions of the practice. One just has to slow down enough to feel them automatically occurring.
One of the things I love about the Ashtanga system is that there are many hidden treasures peppered throughout each series especially in the sun salutations and the fundamental asanas. Slow down and have a closer look.