I’m not the first to say this, but Yoga has saturated the market. Yoga in the West has now manifested into a thousand and one faces. Most of the Yoga we read about is Asana, with people giving a brief superficial nod to the other limbs. Even with Asana being the focal point, this too is getting the superficial treatment in most blogs and news feeds. So my challenge is to up the ante. In order to understand what Asana actually is and its true purpose, we as Yoga practitioners have to dig a little deeper.
Prashant Iyengar says that Asanas are a maya (illusion) to the lay person. When the average Joe sees me doing Asanas in the park during my lunch break, he probably thinks I’m off my rocker…but at best just thinks I am exercising or contorting myself. What the average Joe does not “see” is what is going on inside of me. Nobody but me can.
One of the problems to our Western approach to Yoga is that we give over emphasis to the organ of sight, and not as much emphasis on the other organs of perception. Asana are extremely visual. It is easy to see what is bending and what is extending. But we have not given much thought for example of what an Asana “sounds” like.
It is said that the highest form of Yoga is done with the ears, as that is the corresponding organ to akasha, or space. That is because you can “hear” complex ideas that are beyond the realm of vision. For example, we can “see” a dog or a cat, or a squid, but we cannot “see” concepts like democracy, or glotteral clicking sounds that Japanese verb intonations make. These concepts are understood through the organ of hearing if you learn using an oral tradition.
A few years ago, Senior Iyengar Teacher Laurie Blakeney, who is a piano tuner by trade, had us utter the mantra “OM” while doing a difficult asana. She said when the “OM” sound lost its clarity from stressed vocal chords, the Asana was being worked too hard and deviating from its “Sthira Sukam Asanam” state which is a prerequisite from Patanjali. This is the first time I “heard” what Asana is supposed to sound like. That is just one example in billions of how we can use other senses to perceive the depth of Asana.
So my challenge to you before posting that next pose on Instagram is go a little deeper into thinking about the pose you are posting. In your practice are you digging a bunch of shallow holes, or are you digging a deep vast well? That of course has to do with what you want from Yoga: do you want pot holes, or a water supply to irrigate your crops?