Asana: more commonly translated as posture, is derived from the Sanskrit root “to stay” “to be” or ”to sit”.
Last month we looked at the first two limbs of yoga, yamas and niyamas, would it not be enough to be compassionate, truthful and content? Surely we should work at these? Why do we need to stretch our bodies?
Through observations of nature, yogis discovered a vast repertoire of energetic expressions that had a physical and psychological effect on the body and these remain the basis of our asana practice of today. What distinguishes asana from a stretch or exercise is that in asana we focus our mind’s attention completely in the body, and in doing so we are better able to listen to our body. Therefore asana practice is a reunion between the usually separated body and mind.
Yoga in the west is often “asana” focused and can be seen to forget the other limbs of yoga but we live in an age of disassociation from our bodily experiences. This limb of yoga practice re-attaches us to our body. The purpose of asana practice is not to achieve perfection in the pose or achieve perfection of the body. Asana practice is simply the most direct way to meet yourself, to feel your stiffness and discomfort and observe your jumbled mind. When we are not in our bodies, we are disconnected from our instincts, intuitions and feelings and from other people’s as well.
For many asana practice is a good place to start yoga.
Patanjali talks about asana as having two important qualities: sthira and sukha.
- Sthira: steadiness and alertness
- Sukha: comfort
Both qualities should be present in equal amounts when practicing any posture.
If we want to consider these principles of asana in our practice, we have to accept ourselves as we are, to notice our breath, to notice our thoughts and where our mind is and to notice how we feel in the asana; thus we are uniting body, mind and breath. Practicing asanas also begins to cultivate habits and mental abilities that are needed for the other limbs of yoga.