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Sunset Yoga in St Lucia
Six Qualities for Successful Asana Practice: Seeking Balance in the Universe

Yoga is certainly more than just asana practice and yet the asana practice itself reaches far beyond the illusion of just stretching, twisting and bending. One common translation of Yoga postures, or asana, has the meaning of – seat or position comfortably held. This metaphor of position comfortably held will extend far beyond the vision of a seated yogi, or yogini, as it implies the position comfortably held in life. In retrospect, yoga asana practice is the window to finding peace, awareness and happiness in everyday life.

As in all things we need a base concept and foundation in order for our idea to grow and fulfill its potential. The yoga postures are a base foundation with limitless potential of physical, mental and spiritual growth – bound only to the mind of the practitioner. Ultimately the yoga asana will develop the power and awareness, energy and perception to navigate a successful path in all of life.

doug swensonWhen you are striving for those valuable yoga asanas – more success is found in creating a balance within these six qualities. Be aware and seek the balance within; flexibility, strength, equilibrium and technique, as well as self-confidence and body types. This awareness in these six qualities will reward you with greater understanding and a successful asana practice. In any style of yoga asana practice when there is a problem in achieving the yoga posture it is directly related to a lack of balance in these 6 qualities.


The intention of stretching, lengthening and enhancing range motion of body anatomy is often referred to as flexibility. Yes, yoga can promote flexibility, although a wise teacher will embrace the use of a “Whole Body Approach“– covering all areas of the body equally. This holistic approach in stretching the body is achieved through rotating the yoga asana practice and the level of intensity, plus the use of cross training.

Flexibility of muscles, tendons, joints and connective tissue is achieved through both short and long duration stretching of Yoga asana. As a result, assisting to release lactic acid, lubricate joints, lengthen and create integrity of connective tissue and tendons, and as a bonus lessoning the chance of injury.


Octoba-Yoga-DDOGYoga practice will create great strengthening of the body – provided we use a “Whole Body Approach “– covering all areas of the body using strengthening exercises equally. Look into the anatomy of the individual yoga posture and see what area is engaged – then use your own practice as a study.

This balanced approach in strengthening all areas of the body is achieved through rotating the yoga asana practice and the level of intensity, plus the use of cross training and muscle resistance. Using a conscious practice of asana, you will strengthen muscles and joints, reach beyond to strengthen the organs, glands, tendons, and connective tissue, and build bone density.


Equilibrium in yoga – is the ability to hold a posture without falling, creating steadiness and security of asana practice. The equilibrium of our amazing body anatomy is a subtle and invaluable concept in successful yoga practice. Enhanced balance is achieved through integrity and awareness of; body anatomy, healthy diet, breathing and cross-training.

Keep the ears free from excessive wax and watch your sugar intake, these can lead to failure in the internal ballast of Human anatomy. Enhanced balance is also complemented through improving greater range of motion and strength plus the simple concept of breathing with awareness. Using a format to target specific areas, cross training with yoga and other exercises will greatly improve your equilibrium.

You are what you eat and if your diet consists largely of sugar and junk food – this can greatly affect the brain and glandular system, which in turn leads to poor balance. Using varied angles of practice surface, rotating soft and hard practice surfaces, and a variety of muscle resistance exercise – will all assist in enhanced equilibrium. Another technique is to practice yoga in the sand or in a very dark room, which has been successful to improve enhancing balance and self-confidence.


Oct-Yoga-AshtangaThe awareness and approach to each individual yoga asana and the building of a strong foundation in each pose is the concept for technique in yoga posture practice. Enhanced technique is achieved through gaining awareness of structure alignment in each and every yoga asana – with an individual approach for different body types. For example; if you build a house with an inadequate foundation, it will have a good chance of falling down, so we should think like an architect when we build our supportive foundation of yoga postures.

Your alignment will benefit by the idea of practicing in front of a mirror, as you simultaneously use a reference yoga book, of suggested posture models. In many occasions, yoga props and (teacher assisted) yoga adjustments will also be a great benefit in learning proper base foundations of yoga postures. Watch other students and teachers as they practice yoga – be aware of their technique and observe from different angles, this is invaluable for your own technique and education as well.

Self Confidence

Ypga-inset2In yoga you should encourage the students to think of ways they can succeed, instead of thinking of ways they can fail. Plus once you learn how to fall, then you lose much of the fear factor in anticipation of the uncomfortable fall from your asana. The following techniques are most beneficial to assist in self-confidence.

We will build success by practicing easy-to-achieve asanas, plus encouraging the students to think of the quality of their practice, rather than the depth, or intensity. This refers to feeling good about your yoga practice, at any level.

Become accomplished in a few easy-to-achieve yoga postures, before you reach for the difficult ones, this will build confidence for the grander task. Support and encouragement of your friends and teachers will also serve to increase self-confidence and motivation.

Meditation to build self-confidence and the preliminary use of yoga props is also a good training base for building confidence and self-esteem. On occasion demonstrate a yoga posture or two in front of your friends, or fellow practice partners, this will often lead to a greater sense of self- confidence. In many circumstances the temporary use of yoga props will create confidence – by allowing the student to practice a supportive version and touch the energetics of the pose.

Body Type

Body type refers to your unique body anatomy, bone and muscle structure, height, weight and overall genetics. There is no exact blue print for success of a posture, due to differing body types, so the individual approach should be modified to accommodate the variation in body anatomy.

Yoga props are also very helpful to compensate for yoga postures which are not best suited for certain body types. Last but not least, encourage your student to observe other students, or teachers with similar body types with how they approach a yoga posture.

I personally recommend Paul Grilly’s DVD on anatomy – which addresses the different body types in asana practice. Viewing a famous yoga teacher on the cover of a magazine – with a beautiful yoga posture, should you be able to look the same? Well just remember to also look at their body type and check to see if their body is exactly like yours, if not then you need a slightly different approach. Somewhere out there is a yoga asana with your name on it and yet somewhere there is also another yoga posture which always eludes your embrace.

The whole universe exists through a delicate balance ~ in order to create harmony within.

By Doug Swenson

Check out his latest book, Pioneering Vinyasa Yoga: The Adventure and Daily Practice –  Available here

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