I, like most people in the west started my yoga practice with asana (postures) in a guided yoga class that moved something within me in a time I felt completely disconnected from myself and the world I had created around me.
At that time I had no idea that yoga is a path to enlightenment and it translates literally to “union”. It’s a path to connect the individual soul to the Supreme soul. It’s a spiritual path.
After some time of practicing asanas I started to get curious and learn more about the philosophy behind it. I started wondering about why we start with asanas (which is very physical) to get into this spiritual path. Have you asked yourself this question before?
Ashtanga yoga falls into one of four paths to achieve yoga. This path is called Raja Yoga, which is the yoga of controlling the mind.
In the yoga sutras of Patañjali it’s explained Yogah cittavritti nirodah (Yoga Sutra 1.2) which means that Yoga is the control of the fluctuations of the mind. When the mind is calmed you can truly see clearly. Furthermore, not only do we need to calm and control our mind but according to the Bhagavad Gita, yoga is finding equanimity in all things always. (Samatvam yoga ucyate, Bhagavad Gita 2.48).
Within the ashtanga yoga method, asana (postures) is the third limb but it’s the first step to start a yoga practice.
So if the purpose is to control our mind and find equanimity in all things always, why do we start by doing physical postures? And if asanas are only the third limb of the ashtanga path, why do we start with them?
Why begin with asanas?
The answer is pretty simple, we can see and feel our body.
We can change the shape of it and it’s tangible. Our bodies are the vehicle we use to get to the inner parts of ourselves. Most importantly, the body and the mind are connected; and the mind connects to the spiritual. But we cannot see our mind so we start with the body to get to the mind, to get to the spiritual.
When we have a steady practice of asanas, we start seeing some changes. We get stronger and more flexible every day we practice. We see improvements, areas we can improve upon and start seeing the possibilities of change in our bodies, in our state of mind and in general in how we approach life.
The key is to stick to it!
We must practice every day to see the evolution, to notice the nuances and the subtleties of those changes. The more we practice, the more aware we become of our bodies, of our thought patterns and our emotions. We start to pay more attention inwardly to who we are and how we react to the challenges of the asanas and therefor the challenges of life.
You might have asked yourself this question before you even started yoga or you will start to ask yourself once you’ve started a steady practice…“Who am I?” This is one of the oldest existential questions that man has always asked himself.
There might be many answers depending on what you believe in, your religion if you have one or other philosophies of life. Yoga is the door a person uses to find the answer to this and many other profound questions, and he/she can gain some insight through the practice and becoming more aware.
On practice, effort and growth
In the book Mindset, the new psychology of success, Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford explains “The effort effect”. According to her, there are two types of people: the people with a fixed mind-set and people with a growth mind-set.
People with a growth mind-set see life’s challenges (any aspect including yoga practice) as an opportunity to grow and improve.
People with a fixed min-set believe it’s black or white. Either they are good and don’t need to make any great effort or they believe they are bad and they don’t make any effort at all because they are stuck being that way and making an effort won’t change anything.
In other words, people with a fixed mindset might say things like: “I can’t do it”, while a person with a growth mindset will say “I can’t do it yet”. If you apply the growth mindset to your life, it can truly impact the way you lead it.
To practice yoga you need a growth mind-set but a common problem that yoga practitioners often run into is that they want immediate results. Long time practitioner’s practice may becomes stagnant or some people might even say boring, without meaning or uninspired. For new practitioners it can get too hard physically, emotionally and/or mentally.
If you have practiced a long time, you might have already experienced this. That is a great moment to ask yourself “What do I practice for? Who do I practice for?” and reevaluate. Get re-inspired and reconnect to this amazing method.
When you cultivate a growth mid-set it can help you overcome the roadblocks that impede you from continuing the practice. See the challenge, difficulties and “failures” as fuel to continue in the path of growth, in the path of yoga.
For the practice to work for any practitioner, there needs to be always some level of effort which leads to growth and resilience.
With much love,
“Having attained purity of the body, the next step is to achieve purity of the mind” – Geeta S. Iyengar