No straining, no pushing … the key to improving your yoga poses or asana, says Yoshio Hama, is not contortion but concentration. Here, he offers interpretive insights into some popular poses, believing that when the heart and mind lead, the body will follow.
Words and photos by Lynette Chiang
Ganeshers who regularly come to Yoshio Hama’s class are enamored of his teaching style – a minimalist, meditative approach, where, under his watchful eye, “go ahead” is often the main instruction, followed by pinpoint accurate adjustment.
“Letting the mind and body “figure it out” is more important than being told every step of a pose,” he says. “Be attentive to what is going on: think, feel, watch, observe, concentrate your way through the poses – with this awareness, you will allow yourself to figure it out.”
He also prefers the word “careful” to “mindful.”
“As the sutras told us, we want to get away from the “mind stuff” and move from the heart. Rather than mindful, I say be careful.”
Yoshio often follows the rigorous quartet of headstand, shoulder stand, plow and fish poses with a short, mid-class savasana.
“Savasana is important to achieve clarity, calm and concentration, and also remove fatigue. It’s where the mind gets a chance to figure it out,” he says.
Finally, Yoshio recommends selecting a pose – perhaps one from a sun salutation – and holding it for anywhere ranging from 90 seconds to 2-3 minutes, at the end of every practice.
“Holding this pose will do more for you than rushing through sequences out of habit. It allows you to … yes, figure it out!”
In the poses below, Yoshio identifies the thought process to focus upon. “Animals tend to operate instinctually, or from the heart, and this is why many poses are named after animals,” he says. “That’s what the ancient yogis did : observed the animals.”