The imagery of yoga is embedded in the understanding of yoga. On one level the imagery is just about communicating an idea – how to convey an abstract principle in a way that all kinds of students can understand. On another level it is about communicating technique – something is called what it is called for a reason. On another level it ignites our spiritual know which supports the execution of the posture.
One of my favorite examples of the spiritual image of a posture conveying the experience of the posture is Navasana – boat posture. In the classical yogic way of looking at life – there is suffering. The practices of yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and the associated behavioral prescriptions are considered a vehicle which can carry us to the other side of suffering – peace, joy and liberation. The suffering is global and cosmic. It’s also deeply personal, intimate and immediate. The capacity of the global suffering to land as the personal experience of suffering in our lives is mitigated by our practice of yoga. The uncomfortable experience may be present, but we don’t experience it the same way when we are well practiced. Navasana, or boat posture, is an asana where we embody the boat which can safely convey us across the vast presence of suffering in the cosmos to the safe shore of the state of yoga.
At its worst, Navasana is a clench your teeth, grin and bear it hold your breath posture. At its best we lightly balance on our sitz bones, heart lifted, reaching our toes to the sky. We can aspire to endure the posture or to understand the posture enough to find the lift that will take us across the sea of discomfort that life can be. It’s a posture that invites us to take ourselves lightly.
In my experience working with students the key to the posture is the connection of the sitz bones to the earth. Too far forward, the posture will be more challenging than it needs to be – but notice where the challenge emerges in the body. It points to an area that may need some awakening try a combination of strengthening and stretching the area with good breath and attention. Too far back on the sitz bone the heart closes. To discover the sweet spot for balance prop yourself a bit. Sit with knees bent. Place your hands on the floor slightly behind you. Lift one foot at a time until you feel comfortable with the action. Lift both feet, then press your hands into the earth and rock forward on your sitz bones, experimenting to find the spot where it’s easiest to hold your feet in the air. Lift your hands.