A posture is achieved when effort stops and the mind is merging meditatively into infinity.
In morden yoga practices, we call the postures asanas. However, following Patanjali’s yoga sutras, the term asana only refers to a seated posture, literally asana meaning „seat“. This could be Padmasana (Lotus pose), or any other seated pose, with the aim to sit firm and still for a longer period of time. Obviously this is not Bharadvajasana, as in the picture!
Interestingly in the early times of yoga, any standing and dynamic postures have rather been named tapas. Studying the yoga philosophy we might find the term tapas translated as devotional austerity, but literally it means „heat“.
So, how comes that we are calling the postures asanas? Shouldn’t tapas be the better matching term for what our physical practice is today? Well, our asana practice today has at least a similar ambition – through steadiness and ease, reaching a state of moving meditation.
You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state.
I love this.
In the yoga sutras, the most acknowledged text about yoga, Patanjali states about 2000 years ago the yoga path, the so called ’eight limbs’:
- Yama (self discipline)
- Niyama (self observation)
- Asana (posture)
- Pranayama (breath control)
- Pratyahara (withdraw of the senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (contemplation)
All of them together is what yoga is made of. What we usually call yoga nowadays is asana, the physical part, but it’s just one of 8. Sometimes we add a bit of pranayama and dhyana, meditation, but most of the times it’s split into different classes.
In times of high stress levels, lots of burn outs, the interest of different practices arise. Mindfulness is a term we here more and more and health is getting more attention. Not just the body, but also the mind. Yoga is a spiritual practice, even if you practice asanas only. The goal isn’t fitness oriented (a nice side effect, I know!), but a moving meditation. Yoga means union. Union between our ego (ahamkara), who is the owner of thoughts, the inner voice talking non-stop, and our true self (atman).
The yoga sutras state: „The essence and purpose of yoga is to calm the turbulence of the mind, so that we can see our true nature.“
Next time you’re practicing asanas, think of it. Bing you full attention to your breath, make it strong and go internal. Do the postures, but don’t care about them too much. Start the journey to your true self!