That thought was - "we are here and engaged in this practice to intentionally create a series of intense sensations of tension with our bodies in the asanas, in order to examine not only the physical manifestations of that tension and the subsequent release, but also the emotional and energetic elements of tension, stress and how we process or hold them".
You've been there - think that 'when was the last time my teacher was a sadist' thought; you know, holding a lunge for an absurd length of time or relentlessly returning to Utkatasana (chair - awkward - fierce) over and over. Sure, maybe your teacher's a sadist (not giving away all the secrets), or perhaps there is something really revelatory to intentionally moving into discomfort, if for no other reason than to identify what added the 'dis' to the 'comfort'.
I would posit that we don't want to exacerbate stress, but like many seemingly overwhelmingly large forces, if we can simply demystify and approach that sensation from a place of neutrality or equanimity, then we might tame that savage beast and understand the nature of stress.
The stress response is inherently natural, innate and helpful; but not when we live in an environment that is hyper stimulating, that seeks to continue to activate our limbic systems and keep us amped out! The food we eat, the speed at which we live, the degree of connectivity - read distraction - that is so prevalent, all of these are subtle stressors and take their toll on our body. Because they are so continual and incremental, and rarely actually life-threatening and requiring of all of the physical attributes a good adrenal rush provides, we simply pack away our physical tension into our bodies.
The body, much as we'd like to study it as an series of overlapping systems and structures, works holistically. Therefore, stress that is experienced and yet not relieved through the appropriate physical response becomes a burden on the overall system. The stress can often translate into constricted and tightened muscles, and that translates through the skeletal and muscular system into other structural parts of the body. Chronic stress often translates directly into chronic tension or pain in the body, in some readily identifiable areas.
Therefore, if we approach the asana practice as self care, and self study, we can use the intensity of the practice to move the body, with the breath, into a series of asanas that challenge us to remain present. Often, the payoff comes when we are instructed to hold a sensate posture for an extended period of time. For many, there are a few breaths worth of physical adjustments, and that can be the distraction. However, as the hold extends, we are awash in sensation, often very challenging and grossly physically intense sensation. Never lost a leg yet, but I've seen some that could light a fire!
Right then, in the intention of the intensity, where do you go?? Mentally, emotionally, physically - do you withdraw or displace or project or reflect? Or, do you simply step right up and dive a little deeper and just take a big sip of that particular experience? Can you become aware of where you have transferred the unlikeable pieces of sensation - has your jaw locked, teeth together, brow knit, fingers curled, toes crunched?? In your shoulders, in your hips??
Can you help yourself learn yourself by looking at where the sensation is, where you feel it moving if you can be aware of that, and what the actual physical, emotional and mental sensations are when you release from the pose and allow yourself to come to calmness?
It's intriguing, it's observation, it's discernment and it's work - so, check it out on the mat. Make sure you are respecting the asana practice, appreciate the intention of creating tension to examine it's side-effects and notice the release that comes from learning to diminish tension. Perhaps even learn what the signs are, physical - mental - emotional, that warn you of rising tension, and learn to begin to diminish it before it becomes so gross.
That's one way of approaching the practice, both as participant and observer. And, the discernment I'm working on currently. How does that resonate with you?? How do you process and understand the tension that occurs, both on the mat and off the mat?? What can you do, within you, with you, to improve you, and your experience?
Give thanks and praise and practice!