When it comes to yoga, it is of value to begin a practice with awareness and intention.
We can start by referring to sutra 46 in book 2 of Patanjali’s Sutras, Sthira Sukham Asanam, which states that the definition of an asana, a yoga pose, as “a steady, comfortable posture.”
With this knowledge, a yoga practitioner has the awareness that, in each asana, a level of steadiness and ease should be maintained. One must not force the body to submit to a pose. Yoga is a practice of “ahimsa,” or nonviolence. With awareness of what the body feels in each pose, one can seek harmony and balance and take the asana only as deep as one can without adding stress or straining.
A good indication that a student has gone too far is when there is pain or the breath is challenged. The ultimate purpose of a yoga practice is to develop the ability to sit for meditation. A benefit that comes with a steady, disciplined practice is that the body, mind and spirit come into balance, and good health is achieved. Some causes for discomfort sitting in a meditative posture are pain, stiffness, digestive dysfunctions, stress and a restless mind.
Yoga is designed to bring flexibility to the body, to improve bodily functions, such as digestion, and clear the mind of distracting, draining thoughts. Yoga means union, uniting all the facets of our beings harmoniously. A yoga practice brings the body into positions that twist, stretch and strengthen it. It also raises one’s awareness of the sensation of experiencing life through the physical form of a body.
We often take this for granted, even though this physical form is the vehicle for all of our experiences. Yoga offers the opportunity to bring one’s body into optimal health while achieving clarity of mind. Taking yoga deeper is less about being able to do more exotic poses than it is about how connected one is with each asana while one is holding it. This is where yoga asks us to focus, to be more present in each moment, through each sensation and the perceptions that arise.
One of the causes of a lack of flexibility can be the thoughts or beliefs we are holding in our minds. Sometimes there are physical blocks, and sometimes what inhibits flexibility is mental. A steady practice begins to unwind the knots of the mind when we bring to it our curiosity and an open willingness to inquire. Even when a yoga practice is repetitive, it offers a lively journey of discovery and awakening. Beginning with awareness, yoga restores the body and allows a centered feeling of well-being to be attained.
To achieve the benefits that yoga has to offer, such as ease in the body and mind, more flexibility, improved health, better concentration — starting with respect to the state the body and mind are in at each moment — doing each asana will support the success of these benefits. It is not a static, finite practice. It is vital and transformative.
Even if one has sought yoga only for its physical benefits, one can begin to deepen one’s experience with the awareness of the original intention of yoga, and that is to prepare the body for a comfortable, authentic meditation. This kind of ease and presence of mind will naturally extend into one’s daily life experiences.