During this weekend's Healing Alchemy Leadership Course, our teacher asked as a simple question; what does Asana (the physical practice of Yoga) mean to you?
We've spoken previously about what asana means according to the Yoga Sutras. As the third Limb of the Eight Limbed Yoga Practice, asana's definition goes beyond the physical, to describe a certain state of being; steady and comfortable.
A state that can be expanded to include all 82 million yoga postures, but truthfully is not just that; everything is asana.
Yet on this day, there was no need even to go this deeply into the meta-physical. As people spoke about the impact releasing their bodies through asana has had on their lives, and how they have been able to heal certain physical and mental complaints through their practice, it becomes very clear.
Asana has many direct benefits to your physical body that - by themselves - greatly improve the life the practitioner.
"It’s been said by some great teachers that there is too much emphasis placed on asana , especially in the west.
[However] we can't ignore the proper alignment that comes to the body [through asana], the changes to your posture, [that] when your body becomes more comfortable your mind becomes more comfortable.
We still have an interest in how to make a posture, or what postures are good when you have backache [etc.] - we can’t ignore this."
- Master Kim, Ayurveda Yoga Academy (The Healing Alchemy Leadership Course, 29th Semester)
What we often miss when we look beyond the basic practice of using our bodies - and learning how to use them well - is how much power the body has to heal itself when it is brought back into balance.
When look beyond balance and well-being towards making a certain shape, or a certain body type, or certain muscle definition as we often do in the west, we miss the real prize; bringing our bodies back into alignment so that it can self-regulate and become comfortable and less prone to the effects of outside stressors.
This is further illustrated when for 10 minutes during the class, Master Kim asked us to make the posture our body most needed now. As people moved, from one posture to the next, intuitively listening to their bodies, a common few simple postures were used; corpse pose, bridge, cobra, etc, etc. There was no-one who thought, "you know what my body really needs? Scorpion pose."
Of course, the practice of Scorpion Pose has it's place and its own lessons to teach, but the thing that was really highlighted again during the class was this; it really is that simple.
When I use asana to release my body and my tensions, I help my body come back towards its natural state - which is health!
When my body self-regulates and becomes more comfortable, my mind - unburdened by the signals my body is sending me about stressors in my environment or blocks in its systems - becomes more comfortable.
When my mind is comfortable I can more easily make space between stimuli (such as thoughts, feelings, and events in my life) and my habitual reactions to those stimuli.
With more space I can response rather then simply react to life as it happens.
More and more, I get to choose the life I want to live.
More and more, everything in my life gets better and better.
This starts on an individual level, but it has the potential to expand to the people we interact with everyday. By transforming our body, we grow the ability to transform our minds, and then transform our life - touching those in our life, and then those around them.
And soon the thing that started out so beautiful in its simplicity again expands to include all.
What does Yoga Asana mean to you? What impact has asana had on your body, and your life as a whole? Answer in the comments section below!