We each need to find our own way in. As a teacher, I hope to facilitate this discovery. When teaching, I encourage students to learn to feel their own bodies, to respect them, to breathe and to develop a sense of inner integrity. We need to work with what we have, where we are, the conditions in which we are practising (it’s no good doing a Greek beach practice in a cold village hall), our state of mind, the time of the month, the amount of stress we are under - or not. There are many ways of working.
Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha and Dharana - using Mantra, sound, silence and visualisation - are all tools to an integrated practice. Working with the Pancha Mayas - five bodily manifestations - is a useful way in. The Pranamayakosha, or pranic energy body, is a particularly helpful bridge between the Anna Maya Kosha (physical body) and the Ananda Maya Kosha (bliss body). Sometimes we bridge the gap, sometimes we don’t, and sometimes, by divine grace, we find there is no gap to bridge.
The muscles of asana are informed by the breath of pranayama, and the breath itself is, if uncontrolled, fed by the mind. And the mind is a tricky monkey. In Patanjali’s Raja Yoga system, the moral observances of the Yamas and Niyamas are mentioned first, as if they are the first two rungs on the ladder of progress. However, in reality they can all be recognised as operating on a self-supporting system: by doing asana we regulate the breath which returns us to a calmer state of mind in which the practices of non-stealing and self-restraint are part of a far more natural order than we, when caught up in the daily inconsistencies of modern life, can comprehend. Dharana (sustained concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and yes, even a glimpse of Samadhi (enlightenment) can be experienced in the sincere practice of Trikonasana.
The way I teach acknowledges and integrates these elements, but whether chakras are mentioned or not depends on the level and demands of the class. Chakras at a local leisure centre class are an interesting aside which may be mentioned once a year; at the Healing Field Gathering they a common language that all the healers can relate to. They are a practical cypher, the key to understanding the individual body, and Yoga is always individual to the time, place, season and person. I am only a facilitator, the door-person: each person has their own connection with the divine.
It is helpful to recognise the elements of the body in sustaining asana. Recognition of the role of the earth in sustaining us in standing and sitting postures derives from Tantra, but there is nothing occult about finding fire in the belly or space at the throat. We are embodied beings, and it makes common sense to acknowledge these elements as keys to transformation. For in truth all Yoga practice is about the inner alchemy of turning base elements into metaphysical gold.