Asana is often simply understood as the postures that make up the physical practice of yoga. Yoga postures themselves are also referred to as specific asanas. But the concept of asana is one that goes beyond making a certain shape with your body - more than a 'thing' you do, asana is a state of being; steady and comfortable.
Asana is a Sanskrit word that translates roughly to "a steady, comfortable seat". In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, asana is described in three threads or sutras. Today we will look specifically at the first sutra on Asana;
2:46. Asana is a steady and comfortable posture.
Sthira = steady, stable
sukham = comfortable, happy, prosperous, easiness, pleasantly
asanam = posture, presence, sitting without interruption
During a class on this topic at our Yoga Academy in South Korea (and as an aside; we had 100s of hours of class on this topic alone - it's a big topic I'll only attempt to express here!) a student asked of our teacher, "what does it mean to be steady and comfortable?" He answered,
"It means no longer needing to move, but it also goes beyond the physical body. Being in a steady and comfortable state means my attitude doesn't shake nor change." - Master Kim
Why do we move? We move to become more comfortable.
As you are now, sitting in your chair, at your desk, on the couch, on the floor, standing, reading, where ever you are - why are you making the posture you're making right now? Why did you just adjust your posture? Why did you move?
When we become truly comfortable, we no longer need to move. This means asana is not something limited to what you do on the mat - but instead that "[a]ny pose that brings this comfort and steadiness is asana...
If you can achieve just one pose, that is enough. It may sound easy, but in how many poses are we really comfortable and steady? As soon as we sit in a particular position, there is a small cramp here, a tiny pain there. We have to move this way and that." ~ Sri Swami Satchidananda, in his commentary on the above Sutra
So let's take this concept even further. We already know that making a certain posture makes a certain state of mind stronger or weaker, and visa versa. We also know that asana is stopping the body in order to stop the mind. If through our practice of asana we are moving toward making a posture so comfortable we no longer need to move and "an attitude that doesn't shake or change", then what does asana look like in the way we live our every day lives?
Making a 'steady and comfortable' state in our every day lives
In life, we also move in the direction of comfort - but how much of our movement is conscious and how much of our movement is unconscious? The action that we do unconsciously can be not really what we want to do. So we keep moving in this direction and then that, programed to keep looking for happiness outside of this body, away from this place, inside of something else. If this, then that. If I get this, then I'll be happy.
The physical practice of yoga helps us become conscious of this mind. It helps us to become more aware of the ways in which we move to make the mind comfortable - as well as the ways in which we've grown rigid in the ways we move. Continuous dedicated practice makes our bodymind healthy, flexible and tension-free so that we can move towards asana - a truly steady and comfortable state of being.
"Like waves in the ocean - do yoga and the waves no longer move." ~ Master Kim
You can remain settled in your centre and you can see the storm around you. You can become the centre of the cyclone and that is the greatest miracle that can happen to the human being." ~ Osho