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.
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