By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio
One of the major misconceptions about yoga is that it is essentially a physical practice. Even regular practitioners may continue to view yoga from the outside-in instead of from the inside-out. But you don’t have to read far into the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the quintessential text of yoga, to find that practicing yoga has a deeper meaning from the physical work we are so familiar with. The true purpose of postures is to begin the process of drawing mental awareness and attention inward toward the Self.
The first few Yoga Sutras highlight the definition of yoga and the purpose for practice: yoga is the cessation of fluctuations within the consciousness; when we quiet those fluctuations, we can see our true splendor; but at all other times we are caught up in the fluctuations of our mind that cause disturbance and suffering. Beyond this definition, the 196 aphorisms describing the practice of yoga include only three having anything to do with the practice of postures, or asanas. And in these three, there is not much reference to physical health. More is written about asana in relation to the condition and state of the mind.
Sutra II.46 states the definition of posture: “Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit.” It is in this sutra that Patanjali immediately connects the physical practice of asana to mind and spirit. But, first we must learn to hold the body firm. Holding the body firm creates a focal point or points to begin to steady our intelligence on the self, thereby minimizing external distraction. With the body firm and intelligence steady, seeing more clearly into our own true spirit, the lightness and benevolence of spirit may arise.
The second sutra on asana, II.47, then states that “Perfection in asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being is reached.” Anyone who has tried to sit still and focus the mind on one thing, without distraction, for even a few minutes can tell you that it does not come without effort, and all the writings on yoga make it clear that the practice takes discipline. Asanas are an obvious and accessible tool to capture the attention of the mind through physical effort. Through this effort, obstacles are removed from the body and the mind, bringing them to alignment so that once perfected, even the maximum of physical effort feels effortless.
Sutra II.48 gives us the result of perfect asana: “From then on, the practitioner is undisturbed by dualities.” Hot and cold, pain and pleasure, good and bad, these are all examples of duality that disturb our senses and body, and bring fluctuations to the mind. To be free of these dualities, and therefore free of disturbance, we must understand completely the relationship between our self and the external world. Through the various asanas, we are challenged to study our own nature, how our body and mind react under controlled situations. Through this research, we come to the effortless state and can once again rest undisturbed in our true nature.
These three simple sutras give us a lot of depth to ponder the next time we step onto our mat. Though just a small part of the entirety of yoga, it is clear that asanas can give us a great start toward the goal of quieting the mind. In our modern world, they serve as a middle path, somewhere between the hustle and bustle of a normal day and the absolute quiet of sitting meditation. So, don’t be satisfied with the byproducts of yoga — good health, strength and flexibility. Bring a deeper purpose to your practice of posture, quiet your mind, and experience your own true splendor!
For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit www.yogarockford.com or call (815) 968-9642.
From the Aug. 27-Sept. 2, 2014, issue