Asanas – so much more than physical exercise

Asanas are multifaceted in that in they help us achieve the mind-body connection but on the surface they look like a purely physical endeavour. To help us understand the profound depth of asana, three sutras in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (the philosophy underpinning yoga) explain, expand and define asana. Firstly, the asana must have a stable and contented foundation. Secondly, the asana as a meditative and thirdly the effects on life mastery.

To achieve the desired stability and ease in the asana, a great deal of discipline and attention must be applied to the practice of asana to gain these attributes. In the practice of asanas the mind and intelligence must be engaged fully with focused awareness on every joint, bone, muscle, fibre, tendon and cell to maintain the anatomical structure of the body, particularly the alignment and evenness of extension of the body. Through asana practice the body is prepared for pranayama practice, which requires amongst other things a strong spine, open chest and calm nervous system.

Effortless effort is the aim of our asana practice. When the asanas are performed with effortless effort they become meditative in their quality. It is essential to practice correctly to realise the effortless effort in asanas, which only comes for most of us after years and years of work. The asanas provide an opportunity to explore and examine obscured flaws of the body, mind and intelligence. A discerning asana practice is required to correct our faults, and imbalances are eradicated so we experience uniformity in the body, mind, intelligence and consciousness. If asanas are not performed in this way they become mechanical and no more than a physical movement with no yogic qualities.

In practicing asanas, engaging the mind and intelligence has the potential to transform the state of consciousness of a person; from dull, distracted and scattered, towards single focused attention. Eventually, through perfecting the asana we realises a restrained or stable state of consciousness. The evolvement of the state of consciousness through asana practice brings us closer to the aim of yoga, ‘yogah cittavrtti nirodhah’ translated by BKS Iyengar as, ‘Yoga is the cessation of movements of consciousness.’

The ultimate effect of asana practice is to put to an end the divisions between the body and mind and mind and soul. In this state of being there are no dualities experienced in sorrow and joy, heat or cold, pain and pleasure, only symmetry, balance and equilibrium. When we are in the perfect asana the body, mind and soul connect in the pose; we experience a state of supreme happiness. On performing the asana to achieve perfect symmetry, balance and equilibrium means meticulous evenness of extension, exact alignment, precise weight distribution and equal movement in the body.

To realise the perfected asana with effortless effort in a supreme state of happiness on the levels of the body, mind and intelligence requires correct knowledge, correct action and correct practice over many years. Therefore it’s critical that the practice of asanas is correct from the outset and maintained as our practice matures to fulfil the demands of precisely engaging the body, mind and intelligence simultaneously in the asanas helping us ascend to the goal of yoga.