The last few months we have covered the first two limbs of Ashtanga yoga – yama and niyama. Now we are going to explore the third limb: asana (posture) which is the most popular in the Western world.
Just a reminder that the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:
- Yama (restraint)
- Niyama (observances)
- Asana (posture)
- Pranayama (breath control)
- Pratyahara (controlling the senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (absolute consciousness)
This month’s focus: ASANA
Asana, the third limb, is often referred to as posture and is the aspect of yoga practice that is often misunderstood and taken for the sum of all yoga practice, rather than an isolated practice of yoga. Asana literally means “seat” and is the seated position or posture where one’s body is firm but relaxed. The yoga sutras describe asana to be ‘stirum sukham asanam’ which means ‘steady and comfortable meditation posture’. Asana is not about performing fancy moves with the body, but rather about certain ways of holding the body along with certain attitudes.
One must be in a meditative state when practicing asana and these certain movements promote concentration of the spirit and inner connectedness, thus assisting one to pray in a purer fashion. The aim of asana is to achieve an effortless alertness where one’s body is focused on the infinite. Through the practice of asana, a daily communion with God (the divine, the source, the universe…) is promoted, thus making it easier to receive graces.
One may ask the question: is it possible for one to isolate the physical aspects of yoga as simply a method of exercise without incorporating the spirituality behind it? This is an important reflection as we can see that yoga practices open one’s mind and body to grow in consciousness and awareness. Through yoga, physical and psychological healing can aid one to experience divinity through the transformation of the whole person.
Ultimately, asana is a means to prepare the body for spiritual exercises, with less obstacles, in order to find union with God (the divine, Allah, universe…or whoever that source is for you).
I often say in class that the entry and exit of a posture is just as important as the posture itself. Do we enter and exit with mindfulness? Are we only concerned about the posture, or is how we approach it and leave it equally as important? We could certainly translate these thoughts into ordinary life – how do we approach situations in life that may be challenging? How do we leave them? Do we rush in and out of situations or do we mindfully address them? With complete awareness?
“Before you’ve practiced, the theory is useless.
After you’ve practice, the theory is obvious” -David Williams