This morning I spent time as usual, reading the Yoga Sutras as I consumed my morning beverage of choice (this morning, EmergenC in hot water) and relaxed in my favorite place in my home (the floor). I came across this description of āsana by B.K.S Iyengar in his book, "Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali". If you've never practiced yoga before, then some of the terms may be new to you, but the feeling that occurs while reading his description of āsana, is universal and easy to interpret I think.
I can't recall how many times in my life I heard the word "āsana " before I actually understood its meaning. :) So, while you're reading this, I recommend just getting to the end. There are a few terms listed throughout that might be unknown to you; don't worry, simply keep reading. You can always go back and click on those words in order to be redirected to some sort of resource that explains its meaning. I'm hoping this little blog post/share might aid you in some way in your practice. At the end, I'll share with you what effect this passage had on me in my own practice today... if you're interested :)
Asana and its effects....
Asana means posture, the positioning of the body as a whole with the involvement of the mind and soul. Asana has two facets, pose and repose. Pose is the artistic assumption of a position. 'Reposing in the pose' means finding the perfection of a pose and maintaining it, reflecting in it with penetration of the intelligence and with dedication. When the seeker is closer to the soul, the āsanas come with instantaneous extension, repose and poise.
In the beginning, effort is required to master the āsanas. Effort involves hours, days, months, years and even several lifetimes of work. When effortful effort in an āsanabecomes effortless effort, one has mastered that āsana. In this way, each āsana has to become effortless. While performing the āsanas, one has to relax the cells of the brain, and activate the cells of the vital organs and of the structural and skeletal body. Then intelligence and consciousness may spread to each and every cell.
The conjunction of effort, concentration and balance in āsana forces us to live intensely in the present moment, a rare experience in modern life. This actuality, or being in the present, has both a strengthening and a cleansing effect: physically in the rejection of disease, mentally by ridding our mind of stagnated thoughts or prejudices; and, on a very high level where perception and action become one, by teaching us instantaneous correct action; that is to say, action which does not produce reaction. On that level we may also expunge the residual effects of past actions.
The three origins of pain are eradicated by āsana as we progress from clear vision through right thinking to correct action.
To the new student or non-practitioner of yoga a relentless pursuit of perfection in āsana may seem pointless. To advanced students, a teacher teaches a whole āsana in relationship to what is happening in a single action. At this subtlest level, when we are able to observe the working of rajas (vibrancy), tamas (inertia), and sattva(luminosity) in one toe, and to adjust the flow of energy in ida, pingala, and susumna(the three principal nadis, or energy channels), the macrocosmic order of nature is perceived in even the smallest aspects. And when the student learns how the minutest modifications of a toe can modify the whole āsana, he is observing how the microcosm relates to the whole, and the organic completeness of universal structure is grasped.
The body is the temple of the soul. It can truly become so if it is kept healthy, clean and pure through the practice of āsana.
Asanas act as bridges to unite the body with the mind, and the mind with the soul. They lift the sadhaka (aspirant) from the clutches of afflictions and lead him towards disciplined freedom. They help to transform him by guiding his consciousness away from the body towards awareness of the soul.
Through āsana, the sadhaka comes to know and fully realize the finite body, and merge it with the infinite - the soul. Then there is neither the known nor the unknown and only then does the āsana exist wholly. This is the essence of a perfect āsana.
"Asana will make the body light. Pranayama strengthens prana. Dharana purifies the intellect. Meditation purifies the mind." - Sri T. Krishnamacharya
I haven't posted much lately on daily practice, so I feel due. I re-read the above passage from the Yoga Sutras while writing it to you in this blog, while editing it, and so on. The knowledge gained from repetitive reading followed me to the floor, to my mat... I couldn't help but recall certain words from the first three paragraphs of the above passage... pose, repose, presence, effortless effort... etc... and its effect on my practice today was interesting.
I've continued to carry on where I left off in here in Sedona, going deeper within each posture, finding new edges or places to enter. Even though I've been doing it for years it hasn't been boring in the least. Enriching at best. Yeah, I've practiced my flow with several certified teachers that felt I was in a good place, but I've learned just how intertwined each series really is, and how nothing is ever lost. Rediscovering familiar postures with continued enthusiasm has never ceased to bear fruit. At any rate, I feel inspired to stick with what I've practiced alone and simply be with it.
Instead of worrying about any one posture/āsana, my focus continued with how I link each posture together, flowing in a unified manner. This is where I feel encouraged to deepen. Allowing my breath to fuel the movement, and be present with each place I came into wasn't always easy, but once lost in the breath and movement, nothing felt better and somehow, the asana, the 'pose and repose' happened naturally. The formula of this connection gives boundless space to experience inner freedom. Connectedness. In the flow, I've began to notice places where I cut my breath short, having a tendency to loose focus or inner stillness. These are good places to observe, while ironing out the angst I feel when it comes to any one āsana. Can I find deeper ease and steadiness? What is it that pulls me out of center? Where do I tend to effort too much or become complacent? Obviously, these processes happen in a fraction of a second, but nonetheless it has taken me inside the depths of the mind where everything begins.
With that being said I'd like to continue with excerpts from, "Inside the Yoga Sutras", by Reverend Jaganath Carrera where he shares his insights on what it means to have a 'firmly grounded' practice.
1.14 Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break, and with enthusiasm.
What is a "firmly grounded" practice and why is it a desirable state?
A firmly grounded practice is one that occurs daily without strain or grudging participation. It is meaningful, inspired, and focused. It is a joyful habit that accompanies practitioners throughout their lives and becomes the unbroken thread that guides them to Self-realization.
A firmly grounded practice is not simply an ingrained routine of spiritual exercises but an anticipated time of connection to deeper levels of self. It is a time of growing acquaintance with our True Identity, of spiritual discovery and nurturance. Times in practice are times of integration and increasing wholeness. This vision of practice is the ideal and is achievable by anyone who follows the advice presented in this sutra.
The attainment of a firmly grounded practice marks an important stage in spiritual pursuits: it is the shift from "doing Yoga" to having Yoga practice become a natural expression of who we are. Practices are no longer activities outside us--techniques or observances that have been added to our daily life. Practices become as integral to our life experience as eating and sleeping.
Yet most practitioners know that there are times when practice is not a pleasant experience. Initial enthusiasm--the anticipation and zeal to experience the peace and joy of higher spiritual states--can gradually give way to complacency and carelessness. These are times when much of our energy is spent on cajoling, persuading, and sometimes even intimidating ourselves to practice. When practice is irregular, the hoped-for benefits are not realized leading to a downward spiral of even less frequent, less focused practice. To avoid this pitfall, Sri Patanjali offers a simple, effective formula for cultivation, a firmly grounded practice.
He goes on to mention the importance of patience, knowing it will take time, the value of consistency, and emphasis on enthusiasm possessing non-attachment to results, however stressing that no effort in Yoga is ever wasted. I especially like the enthusiasm part. Whenever doing something joyfully, no matter what it is, makes the process in itself a living, breathing work of art to experience in the moment.
So... āsana... you 'learned' what it means now. We understand the importance of a regular practice and of being present in our daily lives. Even if you never practice yoga, you must know and be aware of the moments that you desire this space within yourself to be cleared, clean, present...right? Yoga simply fuels that, provides it and guides you to even further and more beautiful depths within your soul. Grab your mat. Come over. Let's practice āsanas. :)