Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The Third Limb of Yoga - Asana

In two previous posts, I reviewed the first two limbs of Patanlji's 8 Limbs of Yoga, Yama and Niyama. Those two limbs contain the equivalent of the 10 commandments; the first five focus on how to treat others, the second five on how you and your actions. The third limb is the one most people seem to consider Yoga until they really begin to practice. Actually for many people this is all there is even knowing seven other limbs exist. And that's okay, but the goal I set at the beginning of the year was to be more yogic.

So we need to dig a little deeper and understand it in context of all 8 limbs.

I Patanjali's Yoga 196 sutras only three refer to Asana, posture, or poses.

Yoga Sutra 2.46 स्थिरसुखमासनम्॥४६॥

sthirasukhamaasanam Asana is a steady, comfortable posture.

In Swami Satchidananda's commentary on this sutra he suggests that the word asana means the posture that brings comfort and steadiness and any post that brings those qualities is an asana. But, he asks rhetorically, how many poses are we comfortable and steady in, particularly over time. If you have tried meditating, you begin to notice all these tiny pains, cramps, numb legs as you are doing so. I know I have, and so does Swami Satchidananda. He suggests that physical and mental toxins create stiffness and tension, and if we are stiff we can be "broken". We need to be supple so we won't break, and he tells the story of the tree and the weed - see page 143.

He suggests in fact that Hatha yoga, or the yoga we know, was created to do achieve this. That moving the body this way and that way, twisting, sweating etc. helped remove toxins from the body making meditation easier. Or even for some people, hatha yoga is a moving meditation. Either way, the yoga poses help the body and mind with meditation.

Yoga Sutra 2.47 प्रयत्नशैथिल्यानन्त्यसमापत्तिभ्याम्॥४७॥

prayatna shaithilya ananta samapattibhyam By lessening the natural tendency for restlessness and by meditating on the infinite, posture is mastered.

I have tried meditating both with out practicing yoga asana and after. In my experience meditation is "easier" after having done even just a short asana practice. This fact of my experience will play an important part in my figuring out what my definition of being "more yogic" means.

And to be clear, each pose, Warrior 1, Downward Dog, what have you are also called asana (they have the word asana in them) because each of them can be a steady and comfortable posture. So you will hear people say "asana practice", and in general they are referring to hatha yoga.

Yoga Sutra 2.48 ततो द्वन्द्वानभिघातः॥४८॥

tatah dvandva anabhighata Thereafter, one is undisturbed by the dualities.

Swami Satchidanana suggests that by achieving Sutrat 2.47, the perfected posture allows us to gain neutrality. We are affected by "neither heat nor cold, praise nor censure, profit or loss". We are neutral. We can choose how we respond to the world. If we choose to cry we can cry, if we choose to laugh we laugh. We use what we want to participate in the world but we do not just react, we are in that calm neutral space.


Next up is fourth limb, pranayama.

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