Asana means ‘comfortable posture’ and refers to the physical stretching aspect of yoga into its specific positions. We do it because it feels good and because Yoga asana will help to boost energy, improve joint mobility and relax the physical body almost immediately. Asanas are known to release latent stress and open up the subtle energy channels called nadis and balance the flow of vital energy we call ‘prana’ flowing through them. On a slightly deeper level asana will also help to awaken the psychic centres in the brain responsible for higher and more blissful states of awareness.
The main goal in yoga is also to be happy and to become more self aware, so there is no need to force ourselves into postures because this will create a tension which tightens the body, restricting the breath and the natural flow of this vital energy. Prana wants to move like a free flowing river and therefore we need to relax into yoga asana and gradually extend our flexibility by working with the breath to release the vital prana. Some people have actually said to me ‘Im not flexible enough to come to yoga’ and this shows a common misunderstanding of this healing art and spiritual path.
As we begin to relax more into the asana, the mind becomes more focussed and the breathing relaxes, which allows awareness to open up into the more subtle koshas (layers of being) and illuminate the heart and mind with blissful states of increased space and freedom. Here we have access to the higher functions of mind and intelligence, intuition, and a loving sense of onenes that comes from it. This experience is not intellectual but the real experience of universal connection and understanding.
We may have read about these things and agreed in principle but through yoga practice these ideals and ideas become a beautiful state of mind and being. We dont think them we become them. Our true nature is within us but sometimes eclipsed by attachments, misunderstandings and anxieties, but when the mind is able to let go the body can also let go and concentration can then penetrate and illuminate its deep and rich inner resources.
In Yoga there is no where to go but the present moment. So by maintaining our mindfulness, we can soon become aware when finding ourselves striving and pushing in our practice, tensing up and not breathing properly. When we notice this old habit that we carry into our practice we can remind ourselves that by letting go and relaxing into the posture, into the here and now, breathing slowly and naturally, then what we are seeking is already present in the absence of conflict, in a relaxed body and mind that is present.
We can definitely use asana as a vehicle to reach certain goals of physical achievement which is a very beneficial part of our journey towards greater health and self awareness, but obsessing about the body can be a big obstacle for many practitioners and teachers of Yoga. Instead of liberating the Soul, the Soul becomes trapped and bound by desires at the expense of our power and clarity of mind. We can become overly obsessed with the form rather than the content. In Yoga philosophy the body is a transient vehicle for the evolution of the soul. Yoga is seen primarily as a unified state of mind; an enlightened state of mind and the practices are the steps taken to achieve this liberation from suffering.
All of our fears and inner obstacles are states of mind to which we have given power and now affect us. However we can use asana to focus the mind into a meditative state in which they disappear and the driving forces of a restless mind, pushing us endlessly from one thought, place, person to the next is brought to an end in silence. We have woken up in the midst of the dream and experience first hand that our mind is like an engine churning out thoughts, impulses and feelings one after the other. We want to be happy all the time so why arent we ? Because our mind is not under our control but in the practice of yoga we can use asana to stabilize consciousness to remain steadfast and stop it projecting negative feelings and thoughts which have no real basis.
So the physical body is the vehicle through which our conscious evolution takes place. It is a means by which we are given the possibility of raising our vital life force and experiencing an inner freedom and blissful state of expanded awareness that is stable, flexible and free from any kind of anxiety all of the time. Our real goal in life is to be happy, to experience freedom from suffering and anxiety, and so Hatha yoga pays special attention to the body in the beginning, with it being the indispensable vehicle of self development and sees the benefit of keeping it healthy.
In hatha yoga we are using the body as the starting point, through which our concentration can begin to penetrate and transform the more subtle layers of being which constitute our personality and experiences. Although certain levels of increased harmony will be achieved straight away through yoga asana practice, the harmony that we truly seek comes from the spiritual integration within ourselves, resulting in a conscious awakening of a higher purpose to life.
Yoga philosophy actually states that a deeper spiritual awakening is only possible once the blockages to the heart energy, the body and sub-conscious mind have been partly released. Yoga is not a religion or a belief system, but a science built upon human experience over the past 10,000 years.
In Yoga practice there is emphasis on becoming aware, of bringing the attention into the here and now. The aim is to become aware of what we are doing, what the mind is doing, what the body is doing and how we are breathing throughout our practice (and after it). Mindfulness controls our breathing, which leads the movement of our body and holds the asana. We are gradually relaxing into postures, feeling the natural resistance points of the body, breathing into them and then gently extending into them.
Yoga asanas are definitely methods for physical enhancement, but they are also part of an amazing scientific framework which teaches them as vehicles for developing our psychic capacities through awakening dormant parts of the brain, the hidden potential within energy and consciousness and inducing the blissful states of well-being and higher awareness.