Not many people know and even less understand that each class and every asana is a mini metaphore of life; embodied within it is the four stages of life according to Indian tradition.
These stages are known as Ashrama and are:
Brahmacharya (student life)
Up to age 24
Brahmacharya represented the childhood stage of learning or studentship.
The focus is education and celibacy. At this time under tutorledge the traditional subjects of science, philosophy, scripture, logic, practicing self-discipline, working to earn the debt owed to the teacher and learning to live ones Dharma (righteousness, morals, duties) occupied the mind and activities of the student.
Grihastha (household life)
This stage referred to the stage of being a ‘householder’;
that is married or in contemporary times in a relationship in the nature of marriage, perhaps having and bringing up children, leading a family-centred and following the dhamic way of living socially.
This stage is where one is at their most energetic – giving much to the community, family and oneself in terms of responsibilities and energy. The teachings of the Bramacharya are put into play in the Grihastha years.
Wealth is accrued and wisdom and knowledge are gained.
This is the period of life inwhich one is most typically sexually active, works hardest and most efficiently and effectively, is mentally vibrant and socially energetic.
Vanaprastha Forest Dweller or (retired life)
The wanderer, the time for ones exploration into the areas of life which hold beauty and provide respite.
At this stage the main occupation of earning an income is handed to the next generation.
The Forest Dweller takes an advisory role only and withdraws from the world of work and obligation.
It is a period of increasing freedom from responsibilities while still physically strong enough to enjoy the pleasures of life, a rekindled sex life, hobbies and other social and pleasurable pursuits or interests occupy the Vanaprastha as well this is a transitional time into Moksha or Spiritual Liberation.
Sannyasa (renounced life)
72+ (or anytime)
The time of the Ascetic the watcher and waiter…
…and of renunciation of material desires and interests of the flesh there is no bias and a general disinterest and detachment from material and physical life pursuits. The focus is on Moksha and a simple spiritual life. Peace, harmony and serenity prevail.
The Yoga of Ashrama
In the yoga class we start in quietness…
…going inwards and diving intention for this next hour or so of our lives; as we are ‘birthed’ into the class the intention starts to form – this is the learning (Bramacharya) phase of our lives.
Gradually we come into a comfortable flow…
… this is the householder (Grihastha) phase of the class – the most active intense climatic peak of the class.
Afterwhich the class pace slows…
… into the Forest Dweller (Vanaprastha) phase and…
… finally we come to rest…
… denoting the end of the class is nigh and this is the renounced (Sannayasa) phase.
Further to this if each asana is broken down into four stages we can see the metaphore in miniature.
Intention is set with the Anja Chakra visualising the asana – this is the birthing stage from which we start to ‘stretch’; testing our body feeling for and learning where the flow of energy is free or blocked, we ease ourselves feeling our way into our take on the posture this is the Bramacharya Phase or learning phase of the asana.
From here we go into the ‘Settling’ stage. We adjust our body here and there; we know the posture; now we are making the posture comfortable to access maximum energy flow and the breaking down of granthis or blockages. This is the Grihastha phase of the asana – the energtic ‘Householder’.
Next we ‘soften’. The muscles are melting into the pose; so if is held with ease; from this vantage we are enjoying the pleasure of the pose, this is the ‘Forest Dweller’ phase or Vanaprastha phase of the asana.
Finally we come to ‘stllness’ here the asana enters the peace, harmony and serenity of Moksha, the oneness or union with breath; which is the dwelling in and nourishment gifted of spirit.
The Ashrama of Breath
Pranayama too has these four stages:
The inhalation = Bramacharya or ‘Stretch’ the learning as the new breath enters for the first time.
The still point or pause as the tide of the breath stops momentarily or longer if you physically hold it in; = Grihastha or ‘settling’; as the breath travels the body nourisjing, cleansing and removing toxins ready for the exhale.
The exhale = Vanaprastha or Forest Dweller; the phase of ‘softening’ experienced as the pleasure of relaxing completely as the air is expunged from the lungs.
And finally the still point or pause as the tide of the breath stops momentarily or longer if you hold it; except this time as the breath is out; = the phase of stillness or runiciation or Sannayasa, the gratitude and wonder of the oneness of the spirit entering the body and leaving it, cleansed and replenished!