“My body is my temple and asanas are my prayers.” B.K.S. Iyengar
In previous blogs I talked about the first two limbs of yoga – the Yamas (social ethics) and Niyamas (personal ethics). We are now up to the limb with which everyone is most familiar, the postures. In Sanskrit, this limb is Asana. The word Asana translates to sitting or seat. Historically, the postures were performed to prepare the body to sit for meditation. Meditation was what the yogis were most interested in. To further emphasize this, the Yoga Sutras are made up of 196 aphorisms; only 3 of them refer to the asanas.
In my opinion, Sutra II.46, Sthira Sukham Asanam, explains the magic of yoga. (Sthira – firm; Sukham – relaxed; Asanam – posture) The asanas are to be performed with both sturdiness and ease. My students are probably smiling now. What? An asana is easy?? No, not always, but our goal is to be steady in the pose as well as relaxed. (Go ahead, relax your shoulders.) When you are first learning yoga, this seems impossible, but with practice it becomes as natural as breathing. B.K.S. Iyengar calls this effortless effort. When we are in a posture, we are practicing concentration, effort and balance. To successfully do this, we must be living in the present moment.
While practicing asana, we also have a chance to work on the Yamas and Niyamas. Remember the first yama, ahimsa? Ahimsa is non-harming. While the Yamas refer to social ethics, we must also be careful to not hurt ourselves as well. I know you can get hurt doing anything, but when you feel pain that is a clear indication to pay attention to what is happening in your body.
Tapas a niyama which means a practice causing change can refer to asana as well. As we work toward improving our postures for the health of our body, we do this in hopes of creating some beneficial change. We know we have succeeded when we can maintain a posture for long periods of time which used to be difficult even to attempt.
Lastly, I want to talk about santosha in asana. Santosha means contentment. I would assume that everyone that practices yoga wants to get ‘better’ at asana. That doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes a posture is just not happening for a person during their practice. Practicing santosha lets that person accept and be happy with whatever progress they made that day with out judgment.
Next, blog that I write will be all about the breathwork.