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     In this post we are moving to the third stage of the eight limbs of ashantanga yoga (not to be confuse with the westernized brand by the same name) as laid out by Patanjali almost two thousand years ago.  The first two stages being the yamas and niyamas, respectively, which were described in earlier posts.  Here at the third stage is the mention of postures or asana.

     It is the postures that people mostly associate with yoga. In the classical yoga text, Yoga Sutras, by Patanjali mentions the word asana only two times out of 195 verses!  Asana is important to the practice of yoga but is not the entire practice of yoga. Sutra means thread. Patanjali lays out 195 threads to codify the method and state of yoga. Chapter II addresses the outer practices of the eight limbs of yoga and verses 46 through 48 describes the way that asana should be approached. The goal of asana is for the posture to be maintained with comfort and stability. This is done by the easing of body tensions allowing the mind to experience the body as infinite space. Mastery of asana is achieved when there is balance of opposite forces in the body, and also, the mind.  In that comfort and stability the mind is not distracted by pain nor body discomfort allowing the  mind to enter into the infinite space of beingness.

     This becomes more significant when understanding what is meant by hatha yoga.  Yoga asana practice is not about striving nor competing for a posture, but is the balancing of forces of ha and tha.  Ha is considered solar energy with masculine properties, and tha is considered lunar energy with feminine properties. In a simplified manner, ha and tha may be likened to the sympathetic and parasympathetic forces of our nervous system, respectively.  So to be in a stable and comfortable posture is to be alert and relaxed with a balanced nervous system.  In such a balance the mind has the experience of the body as infinite space. Being absorbed in infinite space make one less the doer, and a new awareness emerges of being held in the pose.

     Certainly in the beginning if one is not physically conditioned then postures can take effort. If the body is weak or misaligned it will take some effort to build necessary strength and realigning of dysfunctional movement patterns. But, mastery of the posture does not happen because the heels touch the floor in downward facing dog, but when a balance of the opposite forces of muscle groups is achieved that there is stability and the mind can rest free of striving.

     Ultimately, each rung in Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga is leading to samadhi or the state of union with pure consciousness connecting us to our true nature.  Asana practice is in the context of this ultimate goal and supported by the earlier practice of  the yamas and niyamas such as non-harming in our personal experience with our body as well as towards others.Yoga is a science developed to allay the afflictions in the mind that create suffering.  How we approach our own bodies can expose the effects of some of the afflictions that we have accumulated through life experiences, such the tendency to over achieve in order to feel worthy. Does the inner child struggle with being good enough and struggle to get the pose just right? Instead, let the inner child return to innocence, curiosity, and playfulness about the body? The yama of non-harming needs to be applied to asana so we don’t push so hard beyond our capacity and cause injury.  Asana is not about the outward appearance, but is all about the inner experience.




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