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Asana – the Most Misunderstood Limb of Yoga

Asana (yoga posture) is the most misunderstood limb of yoga. Sure, everyone is doing asanas, but is there an understanding and respect for the practice?
Trikonasana

Asana (yoga posture) is the most misunderstood limb of yoga. Sure, everyone is doing asanas, but are they doing them with an understanding of the ultimate purpose? I’ll go out on a limb here and say that most practitioners are missing the point.

Yoga is a lifestyle, a philosophy and most importantly, a spiritual path of which asanas are just a small part. Thousands of years ago, Sage Patanjali enumerated eight limbs of yoga. This article will take a look at the third limb of yoga – asana.

What are the Eight Limbs of Yoga?

yama niyama-asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhyana samadhayo-‘stavangani

|2.29| Patanjali Yoga Sutras

Restraint, observance, postures, regulation of breath, substitute food for the mind, ability of the mind to focus, meditation and higher states of consciousness are eight limbs of yoga.

The limbs of yoga develop together; similar to how pulling one leg of a chair results in the entire chair coming toward you, when you practice one limb of yoga, the other limbs begin to develop as well.

What is an asana?

By now you’ve probably associated yoga asanas with acrobatics. While it’s true that very advanced asanas can look a little impossible, most asanas are as simple as sitting cross-legged or lying flat on your back with your palms facing up.

To explore how yoga asanas have become so far detached from their roots, would be more an exercise is examining the market. Anything that begins with a true, pure and loving intention, once commercialized loses that warmth.

It’s no surprise that when yoga was picked up by the market, everything that made it so special was discarded.

It is that essence of yoga that cannot be mass manufactured.

asana | Asana – the Most Misunderstood Limb of Yoga

To transmit the essence of yoga, a Master is required.

Think about Kung Fu masters teaching their disciples – same idea here.

In the past, the practice of yoga was highly guarded. It was a secret deemed worthy only for those who showed their discipline, devotion and readiness for the practice. In the early days, yoga was passed down only by word of mouth from Master to disciple and so forth.

At some point, it was translated to written text, sutras to be precise. And slowly the knowledge became more widespread and accessible.

One of the most famous texts in yoga are the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. In this text, Sage Patanjali writes a series of short, concise sutras with the essence of yoga encoded into them.

It is no wonder that much of this knowledge has been lost in modern yoga practices. Most interpretations today are very dense and difficult to comprehend.

Of all the sutras, there are only a few which speak of asanas, and I will only be sharing one, which to me is the very essence of yoga asanas.

Sthira-sukham-asanam

|2.46| Patanjali Yoga Sutras

That which is steady and comfortable is an asana.

Let’s read that again.

That which is steady and comfortable is an asana.

So no, don’t think of a yoga practice as balancing on one hand and doing airborne splits.

A yoga practice is a series of movements and gentle stretches designed to unify the body, the breath and the mind.

To bring these three together, a few things needs to happen:

  • The breath needs to flow in its natural rhythm
  • The body must be in equilibrium
  • The mind must be settled

Listed as such these three things seem very simple, but have you ever tried to tame your mind? When your mind is racing, have you been able to bridle that baby and bring it back to stillness?

I’m guessing the answer is no.

That baby has dragged you along with it, going wherever it pleases without limits.

What about the body?

Let’s do an experiment.

Stand up. Feet parallel to each other. Put equal weight on both feet.

Knees soft. Turn the pelvis forward.

Pull the belly in.

Relax the shoulders, roll them back out of their comfortable hunch.

Chin parallel to ground.

Palms facing forward, eyes looking straight ahead of you, gaze soft.

Relax the jaw.

Long deep breaths here.

Keep breathing.

How long can you keep this position?

Notice if you’re tensing any muscles that you don’t need to be, and relax them without coming out of the asana.

Inhale.

Hold.

Exhale.

Repeat for as long as you’d like.

asana | Asana – the Most Misunderstood Limb of Yoga

How many breaths were you able to hold before your attention wandered?

Speaking of breath, were you aware of the movement of your breath? Was it moving or were you holding unconsciously?

Okay, so that was a little unfair because you were in the middle of something when you opened up this article, but now that you have a reference point, you’ll be able to see and appreciate how an asana practice progressively leads you into stillness.

While standing (or sitting or lying) in any asana, your breath, mind and body will find a comfortable and steady state.

It is in that state that you will encounter truth.

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Parm Saggu

Parm Saggu

Hey, I'm Parm! I help people who long for a deeper meaning in life but feel caged by societal expectations to break free, uncover the secrets of life, and forge a path to be the difference they want to see in the world.

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