Yoga has become increasingly popular all over the world in the past decade or two. Everyone has heard a few Yoga-related words, at the least, if not tried out the practice itself. One of the most popular words related to Yoga, and one that is showcased very often on social media, is Āsana.
What is Āsana? How is it different from other physical exercise, or is it different at all? Hint – Āsana is not a physical exercise at all! Confused? Let me help you understand it a bit better.
How is Āsana different from other physical exercise? Is it different at all?
The answer to this question is simple as well as extremely complex, depending on your understanding of Classical Ashtānga Yoga. To put it simply, Āsana is extremely different from every other physical exercise; in fact, I do not consider it a physical exercise at all, not in its entirety.
To understand what I am saying a little better, I will continue by explaining what I understand by Āsana and what it means to me. My understanding of Āsana comes from Sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and its commentaries as well as from other reading and conversations over the years.
What, exactly, is Āsana?
According to Sage Patanjali, Āsana is part of Ashtānga Yoga, a path suggested for the beginner student just starting off on their spiritual journey. Āsana is the third step in the eight-fold path of Ashtānga Yoga, and Sage Patanjali dedicates three Sutras out of 195 Sutras to the concept and goal of Āsana practice. Sutras 2:46, 2:47, and 2:48 introduce and explain what Āsana is and what its practice should achieve for a practitioner. (There will be articles detailing these Sutras later on.)
Āsana is physical postures that bring steadiness, comfort, focus, and calmness into the body so that the focus can then be turned towards the breath and the mind. With time, such a practice helps bridge the gap between life’s dualities in a way that they no longer disturb or take us away from the spiritual journey. It is a tool given by Sage Patanjali to progress in our spiritual journey.
What does that mean in real life? We will not easily give in to impulses to seek pleasure or avoid pain but will take them all in our stride. Emotions become more balanced and do not disturb our sense of emotional balance. Sensory perceptions distract us less so we stay focused on our goals. With fewer distractions, we begin to connect better with ourselves. We start understanding our breath and mind better and build awareness of the self. We become more mindful of our thoughts, words, and actions.
All of these changes lead us to become more focused and slowly develop a meditative state of mind, taking us closer to the ultimate goal of Yoga – Samādhi or undisturbed concentration for an extended period of time that is entirely within our control.
Āsana is therefore, nothing like any other exercise. Its goal is not physical fitness; rather, it focuses on developing stillness in body and mind, builds mindfulness, and leads us towards meditative states of being. Physical fitness, flexibility, and reduction of physiological problems are all simply side-effects of the practice and not its primary goals.
If reading this has intrigued you to know more about the philosophy behind Āsana practice, feel free to connect with me for a more in-depth conversation. Nothing makes me happier than making people interested in ancient scriptures that help us lead more fulfilling lives and make us happier people!