The 'Doing' of Yoga June 14 2014
There has been much debate over whether or not the actual physical practice of Asana is indeed part of the original practice of Yoga. It's origins deeply rooted back to around 2500 BCE. And indeed, rightly so. Yoga in its many forms today can and often does stray deeply from its original intentions and teachings.
There are four main paths of Yoga - Karma Yoga (the Yoga of action - moving closer to God through selfless action), Bhakti Yoga (devotional Yoga - devotional prayer, Kirtan and worship), Raja Yoga (the royal path comprising of mental and physical control and of which Asana is but one of 8 limbs of the practice) and Jnana Yoga (the yoga of wisdom or knowledge of the ancient texts and Vedanta).
For most modern yoga practitioners the 8 limbs of Yoga as described in Patanjali's Yoga sutras are what is considered to be the practice of Yoga which could be considered the Raja or Royal path. They include;
1. Yamas - the restraints; Ahimsa (non-violence), Satyam (truthfulness), Brahmacharya (moderation), Asteya (non-stealing), Aparigraha (non-covetousness)
2. Niyamas - the observances; Saucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Swadhyaya (study), Ishwara Pranidhana (surrender to God's will)
3. Asanas - Postures
4. Pranayama - Breath control
5. Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses in order to still the mind
6. Dharana - concentration
7. Dhyana - meditation
8. Samadhi - the super conscious state
The practice of these 8 limbs is more of a prescription for living a fulfilled life than anything else and regardless of which aspect of our Yoga journey we follow it is becoming apparent that in the west we are losing a lot of what Yoga is actually about. My teacher says on a regular basis - without the breath it is no longer Yoga it is just exercise and the purpose of Asana is to prepare the body for meditation. For without a healthy happy body we can not hope to remain in meditation for extended periods of time without complaint. Asana is about keeping the body supple and strong to be able to live to our fullest potential.
I find there is a conflict among students of Yoga. There is the struggle to achieve posture and the ego of performing complicated posture for others to revere that removes us from the purpose of that posture in the first place. Yoga is about being not doing. It is not about adding to the list of things to do today, about attending a class in the latest clothes just to be seen. Its personal practice, your own journey. Its about 'being' about 'breathing' and about quieting the mind.
I often get asked what I mean by the phrase 'Asana is just a small part of Yoga". What I mean is the above - the 8 limbs. About living a Yogic life, one filled with right action, right speech and compassion. The hour you spend on your Yoga mat is nothing compared to the 23hours you spend off the mat interacting with your fellow beings contributing to the world in either a negative or a positive way. When you leave your Yoga Mat this is when your real works begins, when the hardest part of your practice continues... taking what you have learnt about yourself on the mat and carrying it through the day.
Continue the journey.