Yoga can create freedom of the body and mind. It is a spiritual path that helps us to find refuge, discover our true self and experience what life really means. The most well known aspect of yoga is asana which means posture, specifically a comfortable and steady posture. Unfortunately, most of the modern yoga today places an incorrect emphasis on this aspect. Today there is only a focus on the acrobatic ability of the body which is a total misunderstanding of the concept of asana and the opportunity yoga provides to us.
The first benefit that the asanas can give us is to bring our body into alignment. Usually we fail to pay attention and give awareness to the body’s misalignment which leads to more damage. Our minds correspond with our bodies and therefore when our physical being is misaligned; our mental state is misaligned as well.
Yoga & The Breath
When we experience the alignment of the body and mind a secondary effect of the practice will nourish us, the breath. Bringing our body into alignment will allow the breath to be as it should be—a deep, flowing, nourishing breath. When we are misaligned, the breath will be short and insufficient, therefore creating more stress in the muscles and the mind. True freedom also comes from the breath being free. The asanas will open the body in a way that the breath can flow freely. Understanding this helps signal whether we are performing asanas correctly or not.
Yoga, The Mind, & The Body
Along with this misalignment and restricted breath, we also hold a lot of tension, stress and pain in our body. Asanas can relieve this as well. However in order to release this stress from our body, we must incorporate our mind. The mind is always turning outward.
While we practice asanas, we want to reverse the outward tenancy of the mind to bring it inward. Moving our concentration and awareness inward allows it to become a witness to our tension, pain and imbalances existing in the body. When we correctly bring the attention of the mind into asana, the tension being experienced by the body can be released.
Ramana Maharishi once said that when we clean the house, we don’t analyze the garbage. In the same way, we don’t want to analyze the pain and the stress that is present—we simply want to release and let go.
This is the only way we can truly experience the benefit of yoga.
Here at Vagabond Temple we teach Asana from this point of view. Unlike many contemporary styles of yoga, we do not give an over emphasis of the appearance of the body during practice.
When all the attention is focused on how an asana appears, it becomes a practice of ego—the body suffers and creates tension.
When yoga turns into a practice of the ego, it is easy to identify and become attached to the superficial part of our being. The danger in this is we narrow ourselves into becoming only what people want us to be. This is not true asana yoga.
The most heightened benefit asanas help us to achieve is to reveal our true self by minimizing and dropping the ego. It helps us to understand, experience and connect with the supreme self, the truth of who we really are.
Through pure yoga practice, asana uses a combination of three different qualities within our being—
- the mind
- the body
- the breath
Understanding how each of these integrate with each other and how to use them in each asana will bring us into balance and harmony. Asana practice is not merely a physical exercise it is much more than that. It brings the mind-body structure into alignment, improves the breath, releases tension and gives us opportunity to reach into a higher level of ourselves, our divine nature.