One of the main principles in Iyengar Yoga is concerned with working within the asanas to establish correct action and appropriate directionality. Much of the credit for this blog must go to my senior teacher Alaric Newcombe who introduced me to this concept.
Action in my understanding is: “what you do whilst going into the asana and whilst in the asana to improve the asana itself.”
Directionality as I understand it is: “the directional movement of parts of the body, muscles or bones” (ie. upwards, downwards, left, right, towards the ceiling or floor)
If we look at a straightforward asana like Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, the actions might include: “spread the palm of the hand” “roll the wrist towards the thumb” “move the coccyx in” and “move the shoulder blades into the back”.
The directionality of this asana is more concerned with big movements: “lift the thighs up” “move the chest forwards and up” “stretch the heels back“.
Differentiating between these efforts can genuinely help to improve understanding of an asana and how to work. In the initial stages of learning we might be more concerned with the directionality and shape of the asana. Once there is some understanding of these broad strokes (you can imagine a painter learning to use a brush and creating the strong outlines of a painting), we can begin to add more detail and refinement within the shape.
Then we begin to find that action and directionality are intrinsically linked and that the more we learn to hone the actions, the better our sense of direction within the posture. Like reading a map, we begin to find that the landmarks help to guide us where we want to go, in spite of variables that will undoubtedly come in our way. On any given day we may find that the direction is harder to access, so we can work on the actions and see if it comes. On another day, the direction may be there but the actions may not be as accessible…So we work with what we have to create the best piece of art we can in that moment.