Is Yoga Really All About Fancy Yoga Pose?
Did you know that a yoga pose, one of the most known parts of yoga, is the only one of the eight limbs of yoga?
In fact, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali only dedicates three sutras for asana.
When we strive for perfect poses, we tend to either torture ourselves with rigorous contortions or extreme heat. At other times, our practice becomes routine leading to the dullness of the mind. And at these moments, we stop practicing yoga.
So, how can we practice asana in a way that takes us towards the goal of yoga?
What is Yoga Pose?
Yoga Sutra 2.46: sthira-sukham asanam
A yoga pose (asana) must combine steadiness (sthira) and comfort (sukah).
- sthira – steady, stable, awareness, rigor, firm
- sukham – comfort ease, pleasure
- asanam – posture (Asana comes from the root ~as, which means “to sit”)
A yoga pose (asana) must combine steadiness (sthira) and comfort (sukam).
These two characteristics complete and reinforce each other. The pose is steady because is it comfortable. It is comfortable because is steady. The definition shows that asana is more than an exercise routine. It is an attitude of entire personality, the practice of posture as in daily life. Each layer (body, breath, energy, mind and emotion) is involved.
Firstly, what is the goal of yoga? We always have to keep in mind, that the goal is to direct the mind into the chosen direction and to sustain this attention. In other words, yoga and meditation are synonyms. The practice of meditation is a seated practice. You should be steady and comfortable during your meditation.
Secondly, what is the purpose of asana practice? We practice asana to prepare for meditation. In this light, when we practice asana, we have to be 100% stable and comfortable. However, a lot of times we sacrifice one or another. If either comfort or alertness is sacrificed, we are not practicing yoga.
Finally, how do you know if you are not comfortable and alert? The breathing provides a feedback if your asana remains sukham. If breathing becomes unstable, you lose the quality of yoga posture.
One of the gifts of yoga asana and pranayama, is the ability to help us to move through lives with steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukha).
The great Vishnu, the god of the universe, is reclined on a magnificent snake floating in the vast ocean while he is ruling the universe. The name of the snake is Adishesha. He is curled providing a bed for Vishnu. Also, the entire universe is balanced on Adishesha’s head. Not to mention, snake’s half-bro is the eagle Garuda. Well, snakes and eagles are enemies. Besides, Garuda’s mom was falsely enslaved in a cheating bet by the mother of the snake. As can be seen, there is a lot of bad blood. But Garuda is the mount of the Lord Vishnu. So, the eagle floats around the snake quite often.
In essence, our friend Adishsesa have to be relaxed and alert while he supports the great god and balances the universe on his head. Also, he must keep his attention in the presence of his enemy.
And, this is how we should practice asana. We hold a pose with stability, ease and capacity to be alert.
An advanced yogi is not the one who can take his foot behind the head, but the one who can take his foot out of his mouth.
~~ Unknown Proverb ~~
Time to practice!
Incorporate the sutra into your yoga practice.
Share your experience.
1) The story was told by my teacher Chase Bossart at yoga sutra on-line classes.
Also, some of the concepts are the collection of my notes and thoughts. This post is a part of series of posts on yoga philosophy.
2) The Yogasutra of Patanjali LIBERATING ISOLATION