The perfection of the body or of yoga postures is not the goal of yoga practice. The fundamental principles of yoga are couched in Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga, and these limbs give central importance to the yamas (our relationship to others and the world around use) and the niyamas (principles which foster the soulfulness of the individual, or our internal relationship with ourselves).
What yoga teaches us is that who we are and how we are constitute the ultimate proof of a life lived in freedom. In the West we are taught from an early age that what we do and what we own are the sole components for measuring whether we are “successful”. We measure our success and that of others through this limited vantage point. If you do not truly believe in living out who you are from your true essence, it is likely that you will measure success in your yoga practice, and in your life, through the achievement of external forms. And in this reactive way of living, freedom is elusive.
This superficial way of measuring success has brought about a subculture of yoga today that is nothing more than a sophisticated form of physical exercise — measuring “masters” as those who are most flexible, or who can do the fanciest most extraordinary postures. These outward feats do not necessarily constitute any semblance of balanced practice or a balanced life.
When we remain committed to our most deeply held internal values (who we are and what we really want to express in this lifetime), we begin to discern the difference between the appearance of success and the true experience of success and freedom — going for to pursue these dreams – these things of real internal value to us.
So why do the asanas? Why practice them? Wouldn’t it be sufficient to live compassionately and truthfully in accordance with the yamas and niyamas? Why do we need to twist and stretch our bodies and listen to our breath?
The word asana translates as “pose” or “posture”, but its more literal translation is “comfortable seat”. These postures were discovered and developed by the early yogis – as postures that do not only have a strong physical effect on the body, but also a strong effect on our consciousness. By exploring both familiar and unfamiliar postures we expand our consciousness and learn to be comfortably seated and centred regardless of the situation we find ourselves in. Asana practice allows us to develop this internal awareness.
What distinguishes asana practice from an aerobic class or callisthenic exercise is that in asana practice we focus our mind’s attention completely on where the body is at present. Hence, asana practice is a reunion between the usually separate body-mind. Through the asana we practice being present, and aware, and doing things consciously, instead of mindlessly, numbly and distractedly.
Yoga practise is a good direct and expedient way to really meet yourself. Asana practice is an effective tool to explore and connect with yourself. When we feel disconnected to our body, we are dissociated from our instincts, intuitions, feelings, and insights, and it becomes possible for us to dissociate ourselves from other people’s feelings, and the physical reality in our day-to-day lives. Feeling disconnected to ourselves manifests in feeling numb to our daily physical experiences feelings and perceptions — which prevent us from really discovering who we are, what we really want to express and create in our lives.
Yoga brings us in awareness with our breath. By being aware of when we breath in and out, we are able to create balance when we perceive tension.
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