For Patanjali, asana meant sitting in meditation.
The Hatha Yogis used asana to prepare the body for meditation.
For millions of modern-day yogis, Yoga IS asana.
So, what is the purpose of asana (yoga postures and exercises)?
Firstly, our society is very different to that of the ancient yogis. We have information overload, a fast-paced lifestyle with unique stresses, a generally sedentary lifestyle, and a Prana deficient environment. Preparing the modern body for meditation is a very different task to that of the Sramanas and Naths. Equally, modern yoga practitioners are not renunciates living in forests! They live in society, work, have extensive contact with other people, and are subject to a barrage of sensory stimulation.
How many people arriving at a yoga class will be able to immediately sit in meditation? Very few. The challenges of the modern yogi include postural issues, modern illnesses, nervous system dysfunction, and breathing pattern disorders. The key to a modern yoga class is to prepare contemporary yoga students for meditation. This inevitably means more asana and Pranayama focus, at least initially.
Conditions for meditation
- We need to be able to sit relatively comfortably, with the body not causing us too much distraction.
- We need to be balanced – not wired and stressed, nor fatigued and foggy.
- The breath must find stillness.
- We need strengthened levels of internal concentration to beat the modern scourge of over-thinking and sensory overload.
So, how can asana help with this?
Re-Shape the Body
Asana can be used to create a body at ease. When the body is at ease, the mind is at ease.
Asana for Health
Postures and movements strengthen and cleanse different systems of the body such as the lymphatic and immune systems, the glands, heart, and lungs. Better health means stabilised energy and less distraction.
The Nervous System
An imbalanced nervous system is the scourge of the modern World. Yoga postures allow us to move between the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Systems.
Asana offers us the opportunity to breathe well even when moving.
Asana re-connects mind and body which is often lost in modern society. Yogis develop the capacity to listen to their body.
Asana and Awareness
Regular, committed asana develops into self-awareness. We might become aware of bad postural habits, patterns of holding our body that reflect our history, and emotional conditioning in the body.
In conclusion, asana is not about keep fit or attaining the perfect “Yoga Body”. Nor is it about contortion and showing-off. Asana does not require obsession about alignment and symmetry. It is about balance of the individual; about creating in the individual the right conditions for peace and meditation.
Details of our 220 hour Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training available here.