What is Asana?
Our next meeting of The Yoga Sutra Discussion Group will be Sunday, Jan 31st at 11:00am. We will be discussing the three sutras regarding the most prominent limb of what we know of as yoga – asana (yoga posture).
(the following translations are from “Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” by BKS Iyengar)
Sutra II.46 : Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit.
Sutra II.47 : Perfection in asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached.
Sutra II.48 : From then on, the sadhaka is undisturbed by dualities.
As we begin our practice of asana, we all have an individual purpose – to ease pain, relieve stress, get healthy, etc… But, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali do spell out the definition and effects of a practice of asana specifically, so can we look at our physical postures through that lens and find a deeper reason for our practice or approach?
First, there are 3 qualities that BKS Iyengar points out in the above translation that can guide us in our approach. In any physical position, first may we stay long enough to feel and reflect? Can we “firm” the body into position, but also “steady our intelligence” of the mind to “be” with that physical state? And how does that physical position feel? Light or heavy? Tense or relaxed? We speak so freely of “body, mind, and spirit” connection in yoga, but how much of this do we truly practice?
“Perfection”, as the next sutra states, is found when “effort in the posture becomes effortless”. This does not mean that effort ceases. As we know the old refrain, “practice makes perfect”! The practice of asana does not lead you to no asana, it leads you to doing asana in a way that becomes an effortless experience. Think of a virtuoso musician who plays perfectly without tension and makes the effort seem “natural” – as if they have not practiced for many years to get to that point. No matter what asana you may be “doing” there must ultimately be a state of “being” without wavering, a freedom from trying and pushing and achieving.
The “final state” of any asana is balance and equanimity, “undisturbed by dualities”. Yes, in learning and “doing” we must push and pull, stretch and contract, extend and flex, but in the end there has to be an end to all that dual activity. When the body and the mind and the essence of our spirit come to the same level and experience, there is no longer fluctuation or disturbance. There is complete freedom.
Asana then becomes our means of bringing our physical self in alignment with our internal essence. This is not without sweat or toil or work. Asana is a place of experience and experiment, interrogation and introspection, seeing and being. How do YOU experience your asana? How does your mind and body respond? How and what have you learned of yourself through your actions? Where do you feel the asana’s worth – in body? in mind? in spirit?
These are some of the questions we may discuss next time…and what a great way to start your New Year with yoga…adding that “next level” or “next layer” to your practice of posture.