By Shandor Remete
The word sthiti in itself has several shades of meaning depending on where the term is used and in what context. The compound asana-sthiti can refer to stagnation, fixedness or holding steady at one point for a period of time. In the field of yoga, asana sthiti is utilised during the practice of asanas. However merely holding an asana with even respiration is not asana-sthiti. It only becomes asana-sthiti when kumbhaka (retention of breath) is introduced. Either antar (internal) or bahya (external) kumbhaka is used to cause the wind to become still at a particular point within the body. The focal point is determined by the nature of the asana; for example in paschimottanasana, due to the natural tendency of the position, the wind is forced to hold steady in the rectal region affecting the excretory organs by increasing their strength and energy.
To be able to activate asana-sthiti one must be very clear about a number of things including the importance of vinyasa, the difference between partial and complete bodily activity, the skilful application of the three bandhas and their effects during kumbhaka, and also the type of kumbhakas that are suitable for different asanas. Only then can asana-sthiti be put to full use with maximum benefits. Without this knowledge and these skills the whole activity becomes a fancy and glorified exercise programme devoid of the presence of shakti (power).
Before discussing vinyasa it is important to understand what is meant by partial or complete bodily exercise. Partial bodily exercise is when a single asana is performed without any preparatory actions. For any one asana will only act on a single portion of the body as was pointed out in the example of paschimottanasana. This will not affect the body in a harmonious manner. Complete bodily involvement is brought about through a systematic step-by-step mobilisation of the body’s limbs prior to entering the chosen asana. At the completion of asana-sthiti withdrawal is carried out through a reversal of the preparatory steps. This systematic arrival and withdrawal is termed vinyasa. Without this, the individual is left with an incomplete experience.
Before the three bandhas (locks or ties) can be discussed one must understand how kumbhaka is supported by the bandhas. When kumbhaka is applied it causes an afferent impulse from the lungs through the vagus nerve while an efferent impulse is sent back from the medulla oblongata. The afferent impulse causes a stretching of the lungs during the holding of the breath while the efferent impulse slows down the heart. When jalandhara bandha (contraction of the throat) is applied after the process of inhalation for antar kumbhaka it presses on the carotid sinus, which causes the lungs to stretch, and the heart to slow down. Uddiyana bandha is begun at the start of exhalation and is fully employed at its end for bahya kumbhaka. Here also due to the deep contraction of the abdominal viscera towards the spine the pressure receptors are activated causing the lungs to stretch and the heart to slow down. Mulabandha (the contraction of the anus) is held through the whole of respiration and its retentions influencing the parasympathetic nervous system to achieve the same results as the two other bandhas. All three bandhas are used to fulfil the same and only purpose. Vinyasa and asana-sthiti when applied in the manner described above lay the foundation for the cultivation and extraction of shakti.
The simplest forms of vinyasa are the surya namskar sequences. There are more complicated forms of vinyasa, which should be learnt under the guidance of a competent teacher well versed in this art. Such a teacher will know which asanas should be performed with which kumbhaka. There are asanas that are only suited for bahya kumbhaka, others only suited for antar kumbhaka and still others that are suited for both kumbhakas. Nowadays few people have this knowledge.
The late T. Krishnamacharya of Chennai, the greatest propagator of the art of yoga in recent times, gives a number of explanations of the use of vinyasa and asana-sthiti in his two short treatises Yogasana and Yogamakaranda. He states clearly that unless the proper means of vinyasa and asana-sthiti are correctly applied and well-understood progress on the path of yoga is not possible since these activities are the foundations for the steady and obstruction-free approach towards the divine within. Holding the wind at a point allows the inner flame to become steady and long spreading a pure light without shadows. This is in accordance with Patanjalis statement sthiram sukham asanam.
© Shandor Remete (Natanaga Zhander)