Finding comfort while maintaining balance requires practice. Śayanāsana is the ultimate challenge of equilibrium.

Practice

Śayana means place of rest. According to the creation myth there is a thousand-headed serpent known as Âdiśeṣa or Anantaśeṣa who swims coiled up in the sea of a yet to be manifested world. The god Viṣnu is seated upon this creature. As Âdiśeṣa begins to unwind, the entire universe begins to unfold. As it coils back up, the universe again starts to contract. Viṣnu is known as the god of preservation, and he preserves the world when Âdiśeṣa uncoils. Viṣnu's resting place is at the center of this beautiful creation story. 

The nature of balance

Balance is controlled by fine-tuned reflex arcs. Even the smallest tilting movements are immediately registered and muscles work with lightening speed to maintain the body's equilibrium, which is determined by the body's center of gravity. In activities such as standing upright our bodies are usually so accustomed to this process that we aren't even aware of it. But standing on one leg we start to wobble, which gives us a sense of what the body does to maintain its balance. The good news is that balance is improved through repetition and practice. The more you practice a posture which challenges your balance, the more comfortably you can hold it. 

Improving equilibrium in Śayanāsana

Śayanāsana is quite possibly one of the greatest tests of one's equilibrium. You are upside down with a tiny base of two elbows to support you. Even in less challenging postures you will find that the rules of finding balance are always the same. In order to improve your balance, the nervous system must identify the new circumstances and adapt. This means creating new nerve connections. In a nutshell, we need a structural change in the brain to occur. 

In the world of sports science, we use the term 'training' when the structure of a body system changes in reaction to external stimulus. Just as push-ups train muscle structure, balancing postures train the brain. Training is comprised of three steps:

1. Challenging the body:

If you want to strengthen your arms, you do push-ups to challenge the muscles of the arms. In this same way you can use a balancing pose to challenge your equilibrium. 

2. Regeneration through supercompensation:

After challenging the body, it will initially become weaker than before. For example, you would not be able to start doing push-ups right away with the same output. Likewise, when practicing balancing poses, your body will begin to fatigue and you will start feeling unstable and wobbly. This is the exhaustion phase. 

During this period of regeneration, the system is working to adapt to the input of this new physical challenge. In the case of the push-ups, the muscles become stronger. For the balancing posture, new neural connections are created which are necessary for maintaining balance. This phase is known as supercompensation. 

3. Returning to the challenge at the right time:

The next challenge of the same body system should come once that system is completely regenerated and is as a result better adapted than before. 

If the next challenge comes too early, the body is still in the exhaustion phase. The body system will weaken with each new attempt until it has been given the chance to regenerate properly. 

If we wait too long between trainings, we lose the benefits of the supercompensation phase. The next time you attempt the challenge you are basically starting from square one again. In other words, your efforts to improve your performance were made in vain. 

Regularity is the key

So what is the right regeneration time? A muscle can take about five days to regenerate its ability to handle its maximum force load. If we want to maximize our results, we should challenge the muscles about every five days with its maximum load. 

Our nervous system, on the other hand, needs about two hours of regeneration time. If we practice a balancing pose one a week, it equates to 84 times the regeneration time. You can compare this to training a muscle at its maximum force once a year. Your efforts are futile working at this pace. 

Tip

When you are practicing balancing poses, try at the beginning to practice them throughout the day for a while. In this way your nervous system will be able to adapt and build on the last attempt made. The good news is that once you have acquired this new level of balance, it will be preserved for a long time. It is precisely like riding a bike: once you have achieved balance, you never forget. 

Practicing Śayanāsana

If you choose to use Śayanāsana as a journey to improve your balance, here are the steps to building up to the pose:

1. Set up your foundation:

Starting from a kneeling position, place the underarms shoulder distance and parallel on the ground with the palms facing down.  Try to press the entire length of the forearms through the hands evenly and firmly onto the ground (figure 1).

2. Turn your world upside down

Lay the flat surface of the skull on the ground and straighten the legs, walking them slowly in toward the elbows until you are only on your toes. Reach your sitz bones and sharpen your tailbone to lengthen your seat upwards. The majority of your weight remains carried by your forearms and hands (figure 2). 

3. Learn to balance:

From here, bend one knee after the other, pointing the feet upward. Keep your toes close to the ground at first as you build confidence and avoid falling (figure 3).

4. Build confidence:

As you slowly grow more comfortable with your ability to balance, you can stretch the legs upward. If you start to lose balance, simply bend the knees again (figure 4).

5. Shift weight and apply leverage:

To challenge your balance further, you can move your feet backwards slightly and bring your shoulders straight over your elbows. By shifting your weight and applying leverage you will be surprised how effortlessly your head will lift from the ground (figure 5).

6. Time stands still

The next step requires a lot of patience as you move towards taking the final position of Śayanāsana. First observe how your weight is distributed in your forearms. Shift your weight toward the elbows as much as possible. Lift one hand from the ground and bring it to your chin. Once stable, lift the other hand and do the same. When you practice this, make sure to start with alternating sides as the first side to lift. The ultimate key to reaching balance in the final position is balance throughout the entire body. (figure 6).  

Śayana: the resting place of the universe and the point from which the entire universe expands and contracts. There are few poses which test your diligence in practice and patience as much as in the final position of Śayanāsana. And yet, it is completely worth it! Once you are in this pose, the world seems to stand still. What might at first be just a moment gradually becomes longer periods of time when you feel that you are simply floating in space. Once you experience this for yourself, you will fully appreciate how aptly this asana was named. 

Shifting focus from the external form to the internal experience of balance

To me, yoga is not about what you are able to see from the outside, but rather the cultivation of balance within. Any doctor would agree that even finding inner balance has a lot to do with our nervous system. To develop this skill you need even more frequent practice than the most challenging balancing posture. You do so by tracking your sense of inner balance and working to bring yourself back to center over and over again. Have fun practicing!

Dieser Artikel wurde im Yoga Aktuell 2015 Juni/Juli veroffentlicht

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