In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, asana is described as “steady, comfortable posture.” In modern yoga, asana practice is what most people associate yoga with: classes that guide students through as series of postures in order to gain better flexibility, strength, stamina and mental focus. While asana is just one of eight limbs in Ashtanga yoga, it is a critical, exhilarating step towards better body awareness, a still mind and the end goal of yoga: liberation and oneness.
“A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind.” –Morihei Ueshiba
The Value of Asana
An asana practice can be a critical step towards self-discovery. Compared to the mind, the body is gross and obvious. We can see imbalances, we can hear pops and cracks, and we can feel tension and pain. However, even this awareness is difficult at first. Personally, I went years with ZERO understanding and awareness of my body (Despite being extremely active and suffering many injuries). During physical activity, I was concerned with the external (e.g. Getting to the top of a rock, lifting the weight, riding through the next uphill). In pursuit of pleasing my ego and emotions I reinforced bad habits as I let my ego override my body. I paid little attention to the working of the body. Unsurprisingly, I often found myself injured.
A daily asana practice turns the focus from the external to the internal. Through asana, we begin to notice our tendency to sink into one hip. We become keen to the weight distribution in our feet and how this affects the entirety of our posture. We finally understand the tremendous amount of straining tension we hold in the upper back. These problems may have been building for years on a foundation of neglect, ignorance and poor daily habits. An asana practice can bring care, understanding and self-healing to the body.
This internal focus and care is the reason asana practice is so effective at strengthening, healing and balancing the body. There are no weights or balls or outside influences to distract you. Your focus is yourself. And how often is that the case?
“Reduced to our own body, our first instrument, we learn to play it, drawing from it maximum resonance and harmony.” –B.K.S. Iyengar