Asana Is

Asana Is

There were 5 yoga studios within a few minutes walk of my old place. Did any of them teach actual yoga? Nope. Most of them were about fitness rather than union. Fitness is a good thing, but it’s misleading when presented as a branch of Indian philosophy. Few modern yoga teachers meditate. Most of it is a version of a version of a version out of strict Hatha Yoga and comes from only one of the 8 (ashtanga) limbs of Yoga, asana.

But is even that about stretching exercise? Asana refers to position or posture. The Yoga Sutra defines asana like this:

Asana is steady pleasantness
Asana is perfected by relaxation of effort and the dawn of (or absorption in) unboundedness.

Very curiously, the first line is often translated as “sit comfortably”, in spite of the context. The Yoga Journal offers advice on poses to help you avoid “painful and difficult” prescribed meditation postures. How does that even meet “sit comfortably”? Many people find meditation arduous, partly due to added baggage. Too much about rules and control. Also, less effective technique.

While asana is performed with the body, it is more about how we are with that than the pose. We could say it is our internal posture that leads to the correct external posture. Like meditation, asana should be effortless. (see quote above)

The purpose of meditation is samadhi. If a comfy chair and pillows brings us “sit comfortably”, then that is taken care of. No perfect posture, candles, pictures, music, incense, or other paraphernalia are required. Just right internal posture. The analogy is sometimes used of a diver – they take the right angle then let go.

Our external posture has little to do with our head or hand placement – it’s about how we are in the world. Right relationship with the world and we find steadiness (silence) and pleasantness. Asana becomes effortless flow.

With established stillness and pleasantness in awareness, you have all the ingredients of sat chit ananda, absolute bliss consciousness. This is also called Self Realization or awakening.

Simple leads to pure simplicity of being. Control leads to more ego.

Last Updated on June 16, 2016 by

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  1. So beautifully put, Davidya.

    Personally, I’ve been doing some very easy asanas pretty much daily since 1969.

    By contrast, I went to a “yoga” class at a gym and, even though I didn’t do all the horrid contortions proposed by the teacher, I got a migraine. Only the third one I ever have had in my life.

    It’s atrocious, or at least ignorant, some of what is done in the name of “Yoga.”

  2. Davidya, your words are indirectly a reminder though, to you and me and other readers who are spiritual TEACHERS now…

    and to you and me and other readers who are spiritual LEARNERS now…

    how easy it is to lose purity of a teaching, and how important it is for each of us to pay attention to quality. Not for control (as you wisely note) but simply to… identify and then remove ignorance, not-truth.

  3. Agreed, Rose.
    I’ve seen slippage in some prominent spiritual communities over the years. Also confusion over the difference between ways of talking about it that evolve and the core method where purity is required. Sometimes, the wrong things are defended.

    Not to mention how many teachers are falling into astral entanglements.

    It’s a learned process but its best it not be at students expense.

  4. You’ve been more consistent than I, Rose.

    But it’s amazing how easy it is to mess up effortless. I took a yoga class about 5 years ago – an update to an even more effortless approach. They called it “bliss-producing” yoga. And it was. Only they over-did it and I injured myself.

    Pretty ironic… but I learned something the teacher didn’t. Moderation is part of effortless living. (laughs)

  5. Amaryllis

    Yes, the postures themselves are very strong for those of us who have let our fitness slide a little {and in the scheme of things I’m not doing too badly}, however my point is that even though I recently decided to *consciously* take my friend’s “gentle” yoga class, determined not to overdo it, I am still trying to undo whatever the heck I did during that hour.

    Through this experience, I have been reminded {the hard way!} that asana needs to be entered from the inside, quietly, from the felt sense of the interior of the body, and not from the level of the mental, where you are told which pose to do and entreated to hold it for a specific amount of time etc. In the atmosphere of a Western yoga class, it is very difficult to do anything but enter asana mentally, at least for me. I am now returning to my gentle home practice, hopefully wiser.

    1. Ah, Amaryllis
      You raise a great way of putting it. That can be especially true if you’re learning and the mind is naturally engaged.

      With the approach I was learning, you come only to the point of first resistance and ease off. Rather than trying to push through resistance, you relax. And then the resistance eases and you gradually get more flexible.

  6. Amaryllis

    Thanks David :). Your wording above “… come to the first point of resistance and then ease off…” is very helpful.

    Short, pithy instructions that are applicable to a variety of situations, on and off the mat!

  7. Lynette

    Although this article was written in 2016, I find it useful and it gave me an “Aha” moment on what I am doing. I have recently taken up TM, the effortless meditation, I can’t thank you enough, can’t believe it is effortless really, which is to my liking. Due to this pandemic, I also was taught the Maharishi first 16 set of Yoga asana and pranayama. David, I can’t believe how they emphasize comfort and make sure no pain is felt. The pranayama also was effortless. This is much more pleasant to do daily and I even do it twice a day before the TM meditation.

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