Written by Kate Duncan.
This is Blog Post Number Three in our Why You Don’t need a mat to practice Yoga series.
First, we broke down the Yama’s, and then the Nimayas. This blog will delve deeper into the eight limbs of yoga by breaking down the third limb, and the most well known, asana.
To remind you, here is an overview of the eight limbs of Yoga.
The eight limbs
We know from our previous blogs that the Eight Limbs of Yoga set us up to live a purposeful and meaningful life. If diligently followed, they take us down a path to freedom, or bliss (yay for freedom and bliss!)
But what exactly is the purpose of bending our bodies into increasingly flexi shapes, anyway?
Well, this might come as a giant newsflash for you, but asana was really only created to prepare the body to sit comfortably in long periods of meditation. All that bending, folding and physical mastery was designed for one thing only: so you could sit, cross-legged, in comfort and peace.
The ancient yogis recognised that it took a very long time to bring the mind into intense states of concentration, and that process needed a body that was physically up for the challenge, and one that wouldn’t hinder the minds ability to be still, with niggling aches and pains.
You might like to think of it this way: doing asana without sitting down to meditate, is like going to all the trouble to prepare dinner without ever sitting down to eat.
Of course, there are tons of benefits to the practice of asana, and many more than creating a comfy “seat”. Our practice creates a healthy, flexible, and strong body. As we work each pose we become more symmetrical and aligned, and any power yogi will tell you that the heart gets an epic workout too (a strong vinyasa class will easily take you to max heart rate).
Asana also trains us to yoke: that is, to merge body and mind. As we flow, we continually bring our awareness into our body. In other words, asana trains us to be present as we move. If we practice this way, continually bringing our attention to our body, then asana can become a moving meditation in itself.
Asana also teaches us to lengthen and deepen our breath, which helps us prepare for the following limb, Pranayama (breath control). Asana also gives us an opportunity to put pranayama in motion, practicing controlling the breath as we move one breath, one movement.
These days, asana can offer a strong sense of community, as many of us meet up at studios and practice together as a group. Many of my students have become dear friends, and I’ve watched connections in the studio bloom into great friendships. The connection we feel to one another inspires us to practice more often, and with more integrity. Our community fuels our practice, and allows us to enter places me might not go if we were practicing at home.
But most importantly, I see modern day yoga (or asana) as the perfect gateway drug. New students walk through the door every day, their minds racing and their jaws tight. They flounder through class, flustered and unsure. But as they drop into Savasana (corpse pose) at the end of class, I can tell they’re hooked. Their serene expressions show me that they’ve had a little taste of bliss, and it won't be long till they want that hit again.
A new yogi is born, open in a way they could never have been before they walked into my class. They may not understand all the philosophy yet, they may not know that what they’re really doing is preparing their body and mind for peace.
But one day soon, their curiosity will pique, and they’ll look for more. And when they do, they’ll come to know that they don’t need a mat to practice yoga.