The Power of Asana: Learning How to Be Present

Well the last two weeks have been extremely productive; I’ve really embraced Niyama and Yama and noticed the significant changes in my life.  My body and mind actually feels lighter.  Most of the things that I’ve been doing have been fairly simple:

1)   Doing things now instead of later (focusing on the present)

2)   Eliminating excess (I’m still eliminating at least a garbage bag a day, yes, I have way too much stuff).

3)   Waking up with gratitude (saying thank you, taking the time to reflect and recognize)

4)   Maintaining a clean body (recognizing the power and energy that food has and embracing the most natural sources).

These are just some of the changes that I’ve been incorporating in my life and it’s amazing how the simple practice of reflection is transforming.

Last week, I began some research into the third limb of yoga, asana.

Most people that think about yoga, focus on the third limb of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra: asana.  This week, I’m going to take the time not only to practice my asana’s on a daily basis but also to take the time to reflect on the purpose of these postures.

In my research, I had a few questions that I wanted to answer.  First of all, if ashatanga is intended to be an 8 limbed path, why is there so much focus on this third limb?  And are we maintaining Patanjali’s original purpose with our asanas?

For Patanjali, the main purpose of an asana was to prepare our bodies for meditation.

The asana’s do this in several ways:

1)   Creating supple, flexible, bodies

2)   Developing the breath

3)   Developing control of the body

4)   Developing personal awareness

5)   Focusing on being present (in the moment).

It makes sense, for the true purpose of yoga was not about twisting our body into strange, challenging postures but to:

1)   Recognize the strength and power that our body provides us

2)   Learning how to control the body

3)   Maintain the body’s health: healthy body means a healthy mind

On my research journey, I came across this magnificent article that reflects on the purpose of the asana.  In the article, the author emphasized the truth the behind the asanas with this eloquent phrase: “In truth it matters little how far you can bend forward or how far you can twist, for wherever the point of resistance lies is the place where you have the greatest opportunity to learn and to change.”

I loved this phrase so much that I have posted it in my office where I often practice yoga and write.  I think this is an incredibly beautiful and honest way of looking at the intent of this third limb.

This week I’m going to work on focusing inward, not comparing to each other or even myself, but simply reflecting on how my body is now in each asana.  It is so important to learn how to be present.  Yesterday, I was wandering through my town and there was a quote on a church wall talking about how “being present is a gift.”

Yoga is also a gift that we give to ourselves and to each other.  The asanas will help us embrace the strength and beauty in our own bodies and realize that each day our bodies will be different. By practicing the asanas, we help strengthen this connection between our mind and bodies.

For Patanjali, the main purpose of the Asanas (the third limb) was to prepare our bodies and minds for the next 5 limbs of ashatanga.  The asana’s served a greater purpose, than strictly maintaing a healthy body and mind.  This week, I’m going to try to remember, that the original intent of the asana was to strengthen our body so that our mind could focus and meditate.  The postures are not about getting to that next physical level but about transcending our physical needs to reach the greater goal of spiritual and mental awareness.

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