By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio
Out of the 196 Yoga Sutras of Patanjali that describe the practice and philosophy of yoga, only three have to do with the familiar practice of postures, or asanas. Mainly, this is because the practice of yoga is to ultimately focus and quiet the fluctuations of the mind.
The body is merely a physical tool, a doorway through which we may begin to capture mental focus. But in studying these three sutras (below*) on asana, we can bring some depth and understanding to the real purpose of yogic postures.
Sutra II.46: “Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit.”
As the body moves, so does the mind. Thus, learning to hold the body firm without wanting to change or adjust position becomes a great tool to begin focusing the mind.
Once our body is firm and in balance, we may more easily draw our intelligence and awareness back toward the self.
A steady intelligence, focused inward, leads us away from our usual external disturbances and distractions and brings a quieting effect to the consciousness.
As the body and mind are then completely engulfed in the experience of a pose, our inner self (“spirit”) has a chance to rise to the surface, melting away the darkness that typically covers the knowledge of our inner grace.
Sutra II.47 “Perfection in asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being is reached.”
Bringing balance back to body and mind is not without effort, however. And, all the writings on yoga make it clear that the practice takes discipline. Anyone who has tried to sit still and focus their mind on one thing, without distraction, for even 5 minutes can tell you that it is not easy when mental and physical distractions quickly appear. This is why we are given postures as the third step on the yoga path as very tangible tasks that call for the full attention of the mind.
With practice, we uncover all our bad habits and imbalances, and through effort, break through them one by one, layer by layer.
Once the obstacles are removed and the body and mind are brought to alignment, then consciousness freely and evenly expands throughout our being, and even the maximum of physical effort becomes effortless.
Sutra II.48 “From then on (after the perfection of asana), the practitioner is undisturbed by dualities.”
This effortlessness in posture is a surface experience of the true unity of yoga.
“Yoga,” in Sanskrit, means “union,” the union of our true inner self (purusa) with our outer Nature (Prakrti). We are distracted and disturbed in mind and body because we become attached to the changing sensations and experiences of life, forgetting that our true Self is an unchanging, steady guide from within.
Like a boat ignoring the lighthouse, we are pulled into the dualities of Nature, thrown by the waves and dashed against the rocks.
Asanas give us the opportunity to take control of our own life, to study our external nature and how our body and mind react under varying situations. Then, as we move back into the unpredictability of life, we are more able to find steadiness and stability of mind.
Just as the lighthouse does not remove the waves, but gives a focus to guide the boat home, so yoga does not take away our experience of life, but guides us on a more stable path to rediscovering our own inner light.
Though asanas are just a small part of the practice of yoga, it is no wonder they have become a popular aspect of modern busy life. They are a middle path between the hustle and bustle of our normal day, and the harsh, immediate quiet of sitting meditation.
As these three sutras point out, the real purpose of postures is to help the mind begin the journey back to the self, guiding us toward a more balanced and aligned experience of life itself.
* All Sutra quotes are taken from Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali translation and commentary by BKS Iyengar
For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit www.yogarockford.com or call (815) 968-9642.
From the Jan. 30-Feb. 5, 2013, issue