Asanas are 1% of Yoga: Patanjali

Patanjali

I write a great deal about Asana in my blog. One could argue that my blog is only about Asana and that I have not even come close to touching the other limbs. That would be a valid argument. I have been fortunate enough lately to devote much time to reading and studying the Patanjali Yoga Sutra-s. After hearing an interview with scholar Edwin Bryant, the idea has crystalized that has been inside of for much time: since Asanas are so powerful and profoundly life changing by themselves, the entire practice of Yoga is light years more powerful and transformative.

There are only three Yoga Sutra-s that address Asana: sthira sukham asanam (the seat/pose steadies and brings about comfort for the aspirant’s consciousness), prayatna-śaithilya-ananta-samāpatti-bhyām (mastery in the Asana is accomplished when the aspirant has a state of effortless effort in the body and in the consciousness), and tato dvaṅdva-an-abhighātaḥ (from then on the aspirant is not vexed by the dualities that exist between the pure consciousness and the perceived world.)

As Bryant points out, reference to Asana only encompasses 12 words in a 1200 word text, or 1 percent. But rather dismissing Asana as unimportant because of its brief “cameo” in the Sutra-s, reflect on how powerful Asana has been in your life. For many of my readers, Asana is only what they have practiced. That is not a bad thing, as Asana as Bryant describes is “plugged in” to a larger system of total transformation.

Now imagine how powerful it would be to practice daily and uninterruptedly a concept like telling the truth, or keeping yourself clean, or not being greedy. Just practicing those concepts for one day would be life changing to many. Then one only begins to gather how difficult and how deep the whole of the Yoga Sutra-s are in what they are trying to impart to the reader.

By all means don’t give up your Asana practice! B.K.S. Iyengar taught that all limbs can be practiced in Asana and has proved it in how he changed the world’s view of Yoga.

Gandhi liberated India with concepts in the Yoga Sutra-s like Satya (truth) and Ahimsa (non-violence) and inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. to duplicate these principles to create civil rights in the US. Similarly, the Patanjali Yoga Sutra-s teach how to emancipate ourselves not only from sorrows, but from all the Karmic and Samskaric imprints we have inherited.

 

 

 

 

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22 thoughts on “Asanas are 1% of Yoga: Patanjali

    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks k8! I even thought about Patabhi Jois’ “Yoga is 1% theory and 99% practice” quote while writing this. We were lucky to have had such great teachers in our lifetime.

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  1. mishedup

    Asanas lead us to the practice of yoga, I think, at least for me. It started with the physical and that led me to meditation and philosophy and the sutras and…on and on I imagine. A lives-long study of the 8 limbs.

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks Mishedup! The genius of Yoga is that it starts from the physical and uses that to go deeper until the soul is reached. Makes crossfit look like a cake walk from that perspective.

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  2. natjtan

    There is a great TED talk on youtube, Beyond Carnism (why we feel it’s right to eat certain animals and not others) that touches on Martin Luther King and Gandhi using non violence and breaking free of today values to create a better tomorrow. This post reminded me of it!

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  3. Mind Body Soul Stylist

    In some ways asana is the easiest to practice — especially when it’s in class with a time + place to be. Practicing the rest requires serious discipline which as we know…asana gives us. It’s taken me years to instill a regular meditation practice, and it’s something I now look forward to at the end of asana. Without meditation at the end…my asana doesn’t feel complete. As for the other sutras…nonviolence etc… small steps in developing those practices can get us there!

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks Mind Body Soul Stylist! Recently I have been revisiting my own sitting practice after asana with deeper effects than I used to have. It’s almost like I don’t want to tell anyone because they sound so new agey. I hear you about the other sutras: following the Yamas and Niyamas make Asana look like a piece of cake…they are extremely difficult to adhere to over a long period of time.

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  4. babycrowyoga

    Are you also reading Bryants commentary on the YS? I find it pretty dense as a beginner, but interesting in that he includes so much from the earliest commentaries. I’ve been wondering a lot recently about the place of asana in yoga. I do my best with the yamas and niyamas etc but the ritual of asana (together with pranayama and meditation that always go with my asana practice) is so ‘dramatic’ (for want of a better word) that is seems the cornerstone for the more subtle practice in life off the mat. Totally makes sitting practice more comfy too!

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      I am happy and grateful that your are studying the sutras and having questions. That is 99 percent more than most!

      I am indeed reading Bryant’s text in addition to Iyengar’s. I am also listening to Prashant Iyengar’s lyricized sutras and using the Yoga Sutra App from the Desikachar line. It is interesting to hear the matrices of interpretations and how that is starting to form into my own interpretation. Any basic Sutra study adds solar nuclear fuel from 1000 suns to the practice and gives the practitioner a clearer idea of discernment in today’s sea of contradictory messages from popularized and commercialized “yoga.”
      Thank you for your comments and readership babycrowyoga.

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  5. khalkinised

    Nice!! 🙂

    Yoga is the practical implementation of Sankhya Philosophy. I have not actually read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras but I believe there will be plenty of practical advice there on the way to live that is not just asana.

    Like you say, to practice yoga is to practice the complete package. All the positive and negative aspects of Yoga from things like meditation to not being dishonest.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks Khalkinised! I studied Buddhism quite a bit in my time and even had a full on sitting practice for a few years which ran concurrent to my Yoga practice. As you can see I eventually gravitated toward Yoga, but you may see some of my Buddhist influence pop up in my posts. What I truly enjoyed about my Buddhist teacher was his stories about the aspirant trying to find liberation and all the follies that ensued. What makes me a bit sad is many modern Yoga practitioners of late don’t have that yearning for internal discovery in their practice like the Buddhists innately have. I sincerely appreciate your readership!

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      1. khalkinised

        Thanks!! 🙂

        I look forward to some more posts on self discovery…

        I have to agree with you. Yoga is all about purification of the mind. The practice itself, while straightforward, must be disciplined.

        It is very similar to Buddha’s eightfold path and the principles of his first sermon.

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  6. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    In your post you state “since Asanas are so powerful and profoundly life changing by themselves, the entire practice of Yoga is light years more powerful and transformative”. What makes Asana’s “powerful”? What do you mean by “powerful”?

    I’m wondering if “Power” is relative to the meaning we give, because 3 paragraphs later you seem to equate the “power” of Asanas with: telling the truth, or keeping yourself clean, or not being greedy. Just practicing those concepts for one day would be life changing to many.”

    I’m enjoying your posts that explore yoga beyond physical postures.

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      1. yogibattle Post author

        “Power” is a subjective word. It is my opinion. Asanas have changed me from an unhealthy to a healthy state. For me that was “powerful.” As a case manager, I work with homeless people who would have a much improved lifestyle by practicing Saucha (cleanliness) and would give them “power” to get on to the next level of needs and health.

        In this post I am trying to impart that exploring Yoga Sutras beyond the three lines that refer to Asana gives one a glimpse into how this text is a roadmap for personal liberation…whether that liberation be in not causing violence to themselves or others, telling the truth, not stealing and being less greedy. If even a small fraction more of the population practiced these, wouldn’t that be “powerful?”

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  7. Aparna

    Another great post. Hm – you do blog about Asana often, but however – I can feel the spirituality in your posts despite them being about the physical. I think that comes from your strong beliefs in the true benefits of yoga. Keep doing what you do Michael. I hope that there are more teaches like you out there who spread the real message of yoga 🙂

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  8. Chef Johnny Brannigan

    The heart of yoga is sanyama(sutra 7 pada 3) What is sanyama? It is the combination of the last 3 limbs.It is a practice constructed from these 3, dharana,dyana and samadhi. It is very difficult to practice truthfulness.In fact it is impossible.One can know the field of non-change, pure unboundedness which by nature is truth.In fact this is much easier. But even sanyama is outside this pure unboundedness.

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