Yoga Beyond the Mat: The Eight Limb Path
3rd Limb: Asana
What comes to your mind when you think of Yoga? Movement, flexibility, standing on your head, trying to get your toes to touch your nose? It would appear that as Yoga moved towards the West, the other components of the original practice have perhaps been left to the side line and the movement or Asana practice has became the front runner.
Getting in touch with our physical body can be a useful channel to allow deeper exploration of our true nature. Working with our bodily sensations, our breath and being in the present moment can allow the mind to calm and increase awareness. Although often fantastic physical practices, many Yoga classes taught in the west, are predominantly Asana focused. It can be challenging as a teacher trying to fit all the components of Yoga in to a 60min class and teachers know that students come for the Asana practice so bringing in other practices can be a little daunting.
I do believe it is our responsibility as Yoga teachers to further the experience of our students and take them deeper into their practice and this can be beautifully done with other techniques such as Pranayama, Meditation and Chanting.
In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali only mentions Asana once in his 196 aphorisms. The only detail which we are given in terms of how to practice is that it should be comfortable and at ease.
“Sthira, Sukham Asanam”. The word “Asana” actually means seat and perhaps Patanjali was referring to our meditation seat. It was not until later years that the Yogis started to focus more on the body and the Hatha Yoga texts emerged which consisted of various physical postures. After this, Asana started to grow and hundreds of postures were included to form what we now know as standing, seated and reclined Asana postures.
Even just with a few lines in the Yoga sutras we can delve deeper into what Patanjali is trying to convey in these words. Asana practice is designed to support the calming of the mind and allows the Yogi to prepare for periods of meditation. The Asana practice can allow the Yogi to develop discipline and concentration which prepares them well to sit for long periods and to take their journey further inward. The Yogi must be mindful to remain comfortable, stay with breath and avoid any discomfort or pain.
Our Asana practice can allow us to to tune into how we are living our lives. Often how we behave on our mat, can give us an indication of how we are showing up in our lives. Nowadays many people are living out of balance with increased stress and anxiety and Mental Health illness becoming more prevalent. If we look at our Asana practice we can identify how to correct the imbalance in our life. For example if you are a very driven individual but this drive is causing added stress in your life due to the pressure you are placing on yourself to constantly perform and do well, you may find yourself always wanting to attend more strenuous powerful Yoga classes such as Ashtanga or Vinyasa flow. Although attending these classes may make you feel good in the short term, they are likely to causing you to go more out of balance in the long term. A slow Hatha, restorative class which bring in elements of meditation and breathing practices, could actually be more supportive. I invite you to have a think about your Yoga practice and ask yourself is it always serving you in the way that it should. Remember practising Yoga is not about punishing ourselves, it is not about pain and it is certainly not about our ego. The goal of Yoga is not to stand on your head (although this can be fun), it is not about wearing the best matching lycra (although this can be nice), it is about you! Discovering that true nature, that true Self within you that is only pure Love and Joy.
Join me next month when we will explore the 4th Limb, Pranayama