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Three Fs of Asana Practice

The three Fs here are :- Function, form and focus. These three can be usefully considered for all yoga practices, but here we consider them with regard to asana practice.

FUNCTION

This is the first F to consider. Here one asks why am I practising this asana : what function do I want it to serve? This is a useful question to ask both when choosing an asana and after making the choice. For example, standing forward bends can be used for many purposes, including :- stretching of hamstrings, spinal flexion, strengthening of back muscles, to induce feelings of relaxation, preparation for hand-stands .. Some of these functions are in conflict - for example, versions that tend to strengthen back muscles are unlikely to be helpful for inducing feelings of relaxation. The primary (and secondary) benefits that one wishes to get from practising the asana will affect one's approach to it (form) and to which aspect of the asana one pays most attention (focus) - hence the reason for considering Function first. Teachers might notice the similarity of "Function" in this context with "Objectives" in the context of lesson planning.

FORM

This is the second F to consider. Here one asks oneself which version or form of this asana will best meet one's reason for practising it. The question here relates to the physical and externally visible aspect of the asana. For example, if I want to strengthen my back muscles, I am likely to move between Tadasana and standing forward bend with my back long (and, as much as possible, straight); whereas, if I am interested in developing spinal flexibility (with regard to flexion), I would curl down and uncurl up (as in Rag doll forward bend).

FOCUS

This is the last but perhaps the most important F to consider. Here the issue is on what aspect of the asana one is going to rest one's awareness. The question here relates to inner and mental aspects of asana. I find this to be a very important aspect of asana as it is (in my opinion) what turns a posture from being gymnastics, or a fitness exercise, into an asana. At any one moment, we only consciously notice and pay attention to a tiny portion of the huge amount of information our minds receive from our senses. Focus is about choosing which type and aspect of the information our minds receive that we consciously notice and to which we pay most attention.

When first learning an asana, focus is likely to be on gross physical aspects of the asana - things like attending to the correct positioning of the body and where stretches can be felt. Once the basics of an asana have been learnt, then it is useful to have focus on some aspect of breath, such as :- the quality (smoothness, length, forcefulness), its' phase (inhalation, exhalation, pauses) or sensations or movements associated with breath. Focus can also relate to the pranic system with one tuning into a chakra or the subtle flow of prana. Other options include tuning emotional feelings or using mantra or mental imagery. Focus can change the primary effect of an asana. For example, when I practise holding the standing forward bend with attention on the tendency for lumbar flexion as I exhale, then flexion of the spine is the predominant effect. Whereas, if I practise with attention on the possibility of the thoracic spine extending with the exhalation, then stretching of the hamstrings is the predominant effect of the standing forward bend. Thus focus increases the depth of one's asana practice and can reinforce the primary effect (as guided by the form) or change the emphasis (perhaps to bring in secondary effects to that guided by the form) of one's practice of any asana.