Asana is perhaps the most known limb of the eightfold path of yoga, and it often gets interpreted as Yoga itself. When we say we are going to do yoga, we mean Asana.
We will take a yoga class, but what we really mean is Asana class. Since the aim of yoga is to find a union between the individual and the whole, and between the mind and the body, why do we need all these physical poses?
What is Asana?
The root of the word Asana means comfortable seat, which says a lot about its original intentions. Most of the earlier asanas described were just that, seated postures preparing us for meditation.
But no matter what the pose, Asana as a term describes the third limb of Yoga, the practice of physical postures.
Asana practice works the physical body so the mind has a healthy and peaceful place to reside. Since the last stage of yoga is Samadhi, union with the Whole, we cannot reach it if all of our attention is going to the physical body. If the body is not healthy, if the muscles are pulling and the legs are aching, if the body is not strong or relaxed, it'll be more difficult to concentrate, meditate and find a place of blissful connection.
Why Do We Practice Asana?
Whether we remember it during our daily life of not, we are a union. The body and the mind are not separated, and the health of one affects the other. We cannot just work the body and expect to be healthy if the mind is not strong and balanced.
You cannot think destructive thoughts or feed your mind unhealthy things and expect the body to shine, no matter how much you do asana practice. The body will not reach its optimum state of being without the support of the mind, and vise versa.
According to Patanjali, Asana aims to keep the body steady and easy for the meditation practice that prepare us to gain mastery of the thought patterns of the mind so that self-realization can be experienced. Sthira Sukham Asanam, meaning postures should be steady and comfortable.
Asana practice is not about how you look, but how you feel.~Kaisa Kapanen
Patanjali encourages us to find a place in our practice that is filled with ease while being steady and stable.
Next time you are in a challenging pose, observe yourself and your breath. Are you feeling steady and easy, is your breath long and steady? If you cannot hold a pose with these qualities, take it down a notch, give yourself some time, do more prep poses and let yourself develop.
It's about finding the balance between healthy challenge and comfort zone in order for us to grow.
Finding Your Way Into the Present
Asana practice reinforces the connection between the mind and the body, and we can use the body as a tool for getting into the present moment. The body is always in the present moment, regardless where the mind wanders.
Tuning into the body gives us a chance to tune into the moment, to quiet the mind, to use the breath and remind us of the alignment between the body and the mind. When we practice asana, we don't just exercise the body on its own while engaging the mind elsewhere. Instead we are moving as one unified whole, trying to centre the mind.
And honestly, isn't asana practice the perfect tool for relaxing the mind? If you want to relax and just be, lay there in a perfect harmony with yourself and the world; when have you ever reached this state of bliss easier than in Savasana? When the body is moved and relaxed, the mind is clear, the thoughts are distant and you just feel whole.
Essentially, what happens on your yoga mat is for you. It is your practice, it is your body and it is your journey.
Therefore the most important alignment is not about your physical body, but how you experience yourself in the poses and what the poses do for your inner alignment.