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Asana is only 1 of 8 limbs of Yoga

October 07, 2011

Good Afternoon Yogis, The quest to achieve yoga poses or Asana has come to dominate most practice and teaching across America.  This is not a bad thing, but it creates an imbalance in yoga practice.  Asana or yoga postures are only one of eight limbs of a balanced Yoga practice.  The 8 limbs, as described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, are not seen as a stair case or ladder to climb.  They are prescribed as being equal in importance and practiced in unison like 8 separate limbs of a tree or spider legs all emanating from a single central source.  The 8 Limbs are: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi.  I will save the detailed descriptions of the meanings of the limbs for a later discussion.  Some like to see the limbs as having a sequence or order of progression from one to the next, but if this was true they would not be described as "limbs" but instead as stairs or rungs to climb.  Setting goals for one's self may seem like a good thing, but it will work counter productive to the Niyama, "cultivation of contentment".  In both Yoga and Buddhism the practitioner is encouraged to extinguish wants, desires, and goals, cultivating contentment and presence in the moment.  A common Indian saying in Yoga culture is "Enough is Enough".  If the desire to reach that next yoga pose is dominating your yoga practice the other 7 limbs suffer and Unity is lost.   Asana practice is essential and the most obvious way  we learn yoga, so how do I keep from over obsessing on the yoga postures?  The key to keeping centered and aware is to bring more emphasis to Pranayama while on the mat.  A keen study of the Breath will keep you very present and not over reaching to achieve a posture.  When you feel the breath struggling this is an indication that you are straining to reach a yoga posture and moving off the center of balance.  Back off and align the spine so the Prana can flow.  Keep in mind that all Asana are meant to facilitate a steady seated posture enabling the Yogi to sit still for long periods of time simply observing the breath.  Remember that Samadhi and Nirvana are not states to be reached.  You are already there.  It is the ceaseless turning of the illusions in the mind that keep one from seeing the ever present reality that is Nirvana.  The 8 limbs prescribed by Patanjali are a method with the intention of bringing the Mind to Stillness so reality can be witnessed free of the illusions created by the mind.  The second sutra is, "Yoga is Chitta vritti nirodha" interpreted in english as "Still the turning of the Mind".  The second sutra is not, "yoga is to do a head stand".  Keep this in mind the next time you are on the mat.  You may not be able to do that yoga pose right now, but that is ok.  Keep your focus on looking inward aligning the spine with the breath steady and deep. When you step off the mat stay centered and aware of your posture and odds are you won't be violent, steal, tell lies, or react in ways resulting from a mind clouded by desires.  Namaste

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