We are in the age of yoga selfies. So much that it has almost become a form of spam. There are scores of blogs where people are trying to achieve this and that pose in 30 days. Yay! I did the splits, now what? Welcome to what yoga has become in the West. What if we were to discover that asana was just a way to penetrate the ego so we can see our true selves more clearly?
To put asana in context of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, it is the 3rd limb of yoga after Yama and Niyama, which are moral precepts. The 8 limbs of yoga do not come until the second book in the yoga sutras which focus on practice. And in the second book the 8 limbs of yoga are about 2/3 the way though. There are only three sutras that refer to asana, and they refer to the “state” of the citta (mind-stuff) in the asana rather than “how to.”
Were the 8 limbs of yoga deliberately placed far back in the text? Why did Patanjali only refer to asana three times in a 196 verse text? I don’t pretend to be a Sanskrit scholar. I am still quite a beginner at yoga as I have only been practicing 15 years. But my gut instinct after reading the Yoga Sutras is that Pantanjali placed asana achievement as low priority compared to the goal of having the practitioner silence the mindstuff to see his/her self more deeply and attain realization from that process.
The problem in the West is that Citta Vritti Nirodaha (silencing the mind stuff) doesn’t Instagram well. Lululemon would not have market if Westerners valued silencing the mind instead of doing Scorpion Pose. The Wanderlust Festival would have to fire their DJs if pratyahara was taken seriously. As seen in my previous post, there was a recent study that says people would rather give themselves electric shocks than to sit silently for 15 minutes. Our society is chronically distracted. We do not value silence as a culture. We prefer doing more and more and more. Has that moved us forward as a society? It certainly has stressed a lot of people out. I see that in my job as a mental health worker daily.
So what are asanas for then? They are a means to penetrate your mind via the physical body. They are a direct laboratory to assess your inner self both physically and mentally. They build strength, increase circulation, provide physical health so the practitioner can carry out his or her dharma and be of service to the world.
And if you are going to do asanas, do them properly. Not just based on the teachings, but do them to learn about yourself. Don’t do them to show how “accomplished” you are. That is just ego and delusion. One day you will get older, and be less able, and God forbid get injured. Then what? If you have been practicing yoga properly until that point, it won’t matter. Your mind will remain still, and you will know that your consciousness has little to do with your body.