A few thoughts on Asana
Written by Tassos Antonopoulos Narayana
The main reason I am writing this is that many yoga practitioners on the path of raja yoga or in other yoga branches miss the experience of mediation because of a misunderstanding regarding the way we place the body in a stable and comfortable position (asana).
In Patanjali we come across asana as one of the eight strands of his system, on which the practitioner builds one strand on top of the other. Asana is just the third strand. Before the asana ten essential principles are found (yama, niyama) and after the asana pranayama follows, which is relevant with the extension of our living essence (prana).
The practice of asana often, if not most times, occurs without us having been grounded on the yama-niyama principles. Their application, after all, is not without effort and paths such as these of hatha yoga often begin straight away with asana.
Whether someone practices asanas originating from the tradition of hatha yoga (which are commonly seated positions) or asanas for seated meditation, asana is defined by two basic principles.
In yoga sutra 2.45 Patanjali reveals themas:
Patanjali yoga sutras, sadhana-pada, 2.46
In this regard, asana is characterised by stability and comfort.
A beautiful explanation of the sutra above is given by Swami Venkatesananda
The position of the body during meditation, but also in most times of the day, as well as the position of the mind (towards life) must be stable and pleasant.
And indeed, when the asana is filled with ease, happiness and comfort, a state of being is realised which spontaneously allows us to experience calmness on a physical and mental level. In other words, asana is defined as a stable position imbued with the sweetness of comfort…
The word “asana”, comes from the root “as” which refers to “the seated position”, so Patanjali’s primary interest was to give instructions regarding the meditative state. Therefore, with the term asana he referred to the “quality” of the practitioner’s seated meditative position.
The term sthira means “stable, solid, powerful, static, determined, immobile. Etymologically it stems from the root stha, which means to stand, to be stable”. Itreferstoone’sability(which is cultivated with patience) to keep an asana stable. To keep the body, the energy and the mind in balance for a long period of time. This capacity is known as asana sthiti. The real asana sthiti derives when the muscles are free of tension, are not exerted and the breath is slow and rhythmic. Themindbecomesespecially patient and in constant alert, continually and passively observing all that is happening. It is hooked on the present moment.
The term sukha means “good, full of happiness, easy, simple, clement, calm.” The literal meaning of sukha is “good space” from the roots of the word su (good) and kha (space). On the level of energy when sukha is achieved the breath flows effortlessly and there is a balanced circulation of prana. On a mental level, the mind experiences happiness, a sense of satisfaction and sensitivity. This becomes the foundation of a fruitful meditation practice.
When ever sthira and sukha coexist, there is a state of “positive inactivity” on every level of existence.
During the practice…
The practice of asana primarily “requires” from the practitioners to increase their sensitivity towards the senses and the living essence (prana). This occurs for a very simple reason, the senses and the flow of prana exist only in the present moment. This offers as a great tool so that the practitioner will manage to avoid:
Traveling in the past
Imagining the future
Beginning of internal dialogue in their mind
An increased sensitivity towards the sensed and prana means a strong nervous system. By practicing asana, but also by following other such methods, the practitioner builds a resilient and open to the senses nervous system. Such a nervous system has the capacity to refrain from responding to every stimulus of the senses and the mind, while it is characterised by a distinctive intelligence which provides the practitioners with the ability to deploy the law of minimum effort on a physical level. Practically, this means that the practitioners do not use the excessive muscular power of the 600 muscles of the body.
To achieve such a nervous system, the body obtains equal sensitivity in both the right and the left side.
Such an achievement is not simple in practice, since the practitioners’ work on the uniform sense of the body brings them in front of “blockages”, which are essentially the expression of our memories on a physical and energy level. Usually, the one side of the body is more sensitive and comfortable, while the other is more blurry. Theaforementioned “psychosomatic” blockages are also quite commonly painful, so the practitioners are called to observe them without ascribing forms and names. Throughprolongedand constant practice the body becomes «visible in its entirety”, on the surface (skin) and internally. Thispracticeresults in a deep cleansing on every level (suddhi).
As it follows from above, the practice of asana demands intelligent and intensive work, but in the most soft and delicate manner.
What follows is the spontaneous extension of prana and the magical stage of pratyahara, the prerequisite of concentration and meditation. The mental space which was full of thoughts is now filled with happiness and elation (ananda)…
Tassos Antonopoulos Narayana