The anatomical aspect
While on the one hand it is really useful to have at least a working knowledge of the anatomical structure of the human body, one needs to understand that such knowledge is by no means the whole story in regard to body movement. It can be liberating or limiting depending on the attitude of the practitioner.
The Buddha says in the Heartwood Sutta, in the middle-length discourses,
‘Brahmin, like a man wandering in search of heartwood, would come to a standing huge tree with heartwood and he would ignore, the heartwood, sapwood, bark and shoots and would cut the branches and leaves, and go away with it thinking it is the heartwood. A wise man seeing him would say, “This good man does not know the heartwood, sapwood, bark, shoots, branches and leaves. He, wandering in search of heartwood, came to a huge standing tree with heartwood ignoring the heartwood, sapwood, bark and shoots, has cut the branches and leaves and is carrying them away thinking it is heartwood. The purpose for which he sought heartwood will not be served.’”
This pointer warns us about over-simplification, degrading the unknowable, infinite quality of the practice for the sake of a reassurance that we, on a personal level, are, or can be, in control. This great tragedy of the psyche means that we become comfortably numb to the infinite reality of our experience. This does not mean that we give up, thinking that if the experience of Samadhi (a super-conscious state of immediate wisdom) is infinite and unknowable, then why make any endeavour to try to experience it? Unknowable means that it is not graspable, cannot be acquisitioned by our ego; it means that it is too large, infinite, moving to be held. It is an experience that is felt within oneself and yet seems to be beyond anything we personally have learned prior to the experience or anything that we can lay claim to afterwards.
A Zen poem points to this openness
Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself
It can, however, be realised or seen in the moment, and this requires the mindset of surrender, dedication or reverence (pranidhana). One must relinquish, release the ordinary grasping (trishna), hoarding (parigraha), and a move towards acceptance and contentment (santosha). All of this is of course pointed out clearly in the yamas and niyamas.
Oliver Cromwell pointed this way when he said, “ man never flies so high as when he knows not where he is going.”
This is not an argument for ignorance. On the contrary, a deep knowledge of anatomy is an incredibly valuable asset in one’s endeavours to surrender and to ‘know’ the experience of yoga practice. It can promote a stronger interest and attention (stira) and when the correct level of humility is sustained can bring about a greater sense of reverence for the richness of the experience that can lead to a healthy sense of letting go and spaciousness (sukkha).
These two elements, when brought together, bring forth the deep internal knowing and creativity, that is not attributable to our personal knowledge which is called therefore Ishvara pranidhana or surrender/guidance/dedication to God.
Being able to visualise, to feel, to understand from the skin inwards, can develop a greater sense of centering or drawing away from largely habitual unconscious preoccupations (Pratyahara). This in turn develops concentration (Dhrana). It is particularly useful for the ‘modern mind’, which tends to be very distracted, to have these conventional points of attention. Without attention, space as an element remains undefined and abstract. It is in the end contact with the element of space that causes consciousness to expand (Samadhi).