Yoga is, as I can readily believe, the perfect and appropriate method of fusing body and mind together so that they form a unity which is scarcely to be questioned. This unity creates a psychological disposition which makes possible intuitions that transcend consciousness.
– Parmahansa Yogananda (Autobiography of a Yogi)
What we refer to as yoga is a state of union or oneness where the sense of our individuality is dissolved into the universality of consciousness. The physical practice of preparing the body and mind for this state is ‘asana’ or postures which are ordinarily referred to as yoga practice. While no practice is necessarily “required” for the recognition of our true nature, it has been the experience of most seekers that the physical practice of yoga was something that helped them bring stability to their body and mind and enabled them to move into subtler regions of inner exploration.
In my personal experience too, yoga and pranayama (breath-work) was something I intensively practiced for some years. I gratefully acknowledge how much they held me in good stead especially when one moves into contemplation and meditation when the smooth movement of energy in the body helps one avoid the discomfort of energetic blocks or the body not being able to absorb the high levels of energy that are released.
Asana as described in the Yoga Sutras
It is interesting that in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (6th century BCE), one of the foremost texts on the practice of yoga, the word asana is mentioned only once in the ‘sutra’:
sthiram sukham asanam
meaning: that which is steady/established and held in contentment or comfort is ‘asana’.
Usually this is taken to mean that when practicing asanas, ease and steadiness are of prime importance. In a subtler meaning, we may see it as a reference to an inner posture or alignment which yields the highest ease and satisfaction. Where internal friction has been minimised as the body and mind have been brought to a restful state. Yoga practices are tools or ‘sadhana’ for reaching this alignment. What may start out as physical exercises are in fact designed to lead one to become more conscious of the integrity of their body-mind, understand its functioning better and realise their true essence beyond the changeable body and changeable mind.
Yogic practices are based on a profound understanding of the physical human mechanism and so on a general physical level too, lead one to ‘sthiram sukham asanam’ or a body held in ease and effortlessness. Without the body and mind being brought to a restful state, true yoga, the ultimate potential of a human being, is difficult to attain. As Patanjali explained, yoga is ‘chitta vritti nirodhaha’ i.e. the cessation of fluctuations of the mind-stuff which leads to the highest state of ease and contentment that human beings can experience.
The best asana is the internal posture of the mind resting inside the Heart. This asana results in true stability or equanimity, satisfaction and contentment. When the mind is not seeking through the senses but established in its true nature and bowing to the Heart. In the analogy from the Upanishads, the body is the chariot, the five senses are akin to horses, the intellect is akin to the charioteer and the passenger is the individual soul or jiva. When the jiva wakes up to its true nature, the horses cease running wild and are under the control of the awakened intellect.
Settle – a yoga poem
settle into ease
settle into satisfaction
settle into what feels natural
only with yourself
what feels like home —
Be fully Home
where you are always
fully allowed as you are
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