What is a Yoga Asana and why is it of such importance in Yoga? In almost every yoga class, at least to some extent, we practice asanas, otherwise known as the yoga poses. On a physical level, they provide us with strength, endurance, flexibility, openness and a healthier posture. However, after an asana class, we often feel that it also had a profound effect on our state of mind. We can safely assume that the effects of yoga poses go way beyond just a physical result.
What is a Yoga Asana and why do we practice them?
The word asana means pose in Sanskrit. Yoga poses were created thousands of years ago in India by the first yogis. According to Hindu theology, Shiva was the first yogi and granted humanity the incredible gift of Yoga. Whichever it was a divine gift or a human invention, we can assume that the first yogis had a deep insight into the workings of the body. Yoga poses have positive effects on the grossest parts of the body; our muscles, connecting tissues and skeleton, as well as our organs and more subtle parts like our nervous system. However, the most prominent goal of yoga poses was to prepare the body to sit uninterrupted in meditation. It was believed that one who could sit in meditation for a long time, had a chance to reach enlightenment; the ultimate purpose of any Yoga practice.
However, asanas are so much more than just preparation for seated meditation. They offer a safe environment where we can investigate the ever-present dance between control and surrender within us. In their microcosm, we can experience the whole spectrum of our inner world. Through extensive practise, we start to understand, on an experimental level, how we can reconcile the opposing energies within the system. Once this understanding matures, we can apply it on a physical, mental, emotional and energetic level. The body, with all its layers, has truly become a temple, fit to receive the light of the Soul.
Effortless Effort in a Yoga Pose
There is something that is considered to be a perfect Asana. Although this is a tricky subject in which our striving ego easily can be entangled, still it is an important goal to work on. We need to fully prepare our outer body, our mental understanding as well as our inner experience of the pose. At the point the openness and strength of the body, the intellectual understanding as well as our energies have reached a specific point, we start to experience a deep sense of wholeness while performing a pose. Only through prolonged practice can we slowly grow towards this perfect awareness.
This sense of perfection goes well beyond how the pose looks like from the outside. It consists of a subtle balance where the external form and internal experience flow together. In other words, the object of experience (the physical asana) and the experience itself become one. This is called Asana Siddhi. We can stay in poses without effort, even while the body working very hard. This is a state of effortless effort where the duality between the pose and the practitioner has vanished completely.
The real-life reality of our Yoga Asana Practice
There is often a big difference between the ultimate goal of perfection in asana, and our practical day to day lives. In reality, our bodies are ageing, stiff or we suffer from injuries. All this can prevent us from reaching what a perfect pose is considered to look like. What an asana practice does for us in this reality, aside from keeping us as fit as possible, is letting us fully accept the current state of our body. Even more so, it lets us get to know the limitations of our physical body and work with that. Still, it also teaches us not to become stale or lazy. Even within the limitations our body sets up for us, we still can improve every time we come to the mat. It teaches us where we need to be hard on ourselves, and where we need to be soft. Often, we turn these two aspects around in our lives. Asana is teaching is to fully accept where we are, while also inviting us to evolve further. When we start to experience that these two things can happen simultaneously, we can start to apply this wisdom to all aspects of life.
How do we practice Yoga Asana at LiveYoga Amsterdam?
At LiveYoga Amsterdam we highly value the correct alignment in yoga poses. We are forever inspired by BKS Iyengar and his deep insight on how to use the body in our asana practice. Our team of experienced teachers has a profound insight in the workings of the body. We will help you to start understanding your own body and its current state more profoundly. We regard safety as essential and therefore will always make our instructions personal and applying to your body specifically. Never will you find us push you further. Rather do we give you tips and tricks that can help you in the long run to create more openness. From here, bit by bit we can start to experience the more subtle and profound effects of Yoga Asanas. We want to offer a glimpse of what the ultimate goal of perfecting an asana looks like, while never losing sight of the current state of your body and what is needed today.