Many of us in this Western culture have embraced yoga on the physical level. There is much ado about twisting our bodies into shapes, balancing on one foot and finding full extension in the splits.  This part of yoga falls under the umbrella of asana, (literally meaning seat). Asana is the third limb of yoga in the eight-limbed system of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and is essentially one-eighth of the practice, but most people look at the postures as the entire experience of yoga. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach. I understand it’s much easier to latch onto what is tangible and workable in the body to feel connected to energy and it we like getting a good workout.  For me, though, it’s limiting to just do the poses.  I have come to experience yoga as more than just “Eastern Exercise” and have received immeasurable gifts from the other limbs separately and in conjunction with practicing the asana.

 If the goal of yoga is to experience the True Self, then how does putting ourselves in these funny shapes lead us to this state of unconditional happiness? Well, what I’ve discovered is that the postures are little metaphors for life.  Each shape in it’s boundry of “no escape” allows us to notice all of our habits in relationship to that shape.  For instance, when I’m in tree pose, say falling out of balance, then I can notice how I am with falling. Am I fighting to stay up and criticizing myself or am I relaxed and just moving in the direction the pose takes me? The poses (in addition to the many physical and energetic benefits) help me to look at my habits and create a softer relationship to conflict which I can then apply to the conflicts that show up in my everyday life.

If we are just interested in getting a good stretch, why don’t we go to the gym and take a class?  Because even though we have come to yoga with physical motivations, we receive something beyond that.  And that gift comes with benefits we didn’t even know we needed or wanted.  We are drawn to the practice because of how we feel, at least that is my experience and those feelings are widely expressed by so many of my students.

 If we practice the science of yoga, which is useful to the entire human community and which yields happiness both here and hereafter – if we practice it without fail, we will then attain physical, mental, and spiritual happiness, and our minds will flood towards the Self.”

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois