When the lock-down in India began on 25th March, good friend and fellow yogi, @zeus_gaurav suggested that we start a yoga challenge. I have been practicing yoga every day and so I didn’t think it was too much extra trouble and agreed. We posted three simple asanas for each day and tagged friends on WhatsApp and Instagram. Several friends participated. Some went all the way to day 21 while others dropped off midway. Many people who claim to love yoga but never actually practice also attempted this #21daysofyoga challenge. It was delightful to see friends and strangers alike, sharing pictures of their postures on social media.
But what really got me excited about this exercise was that we motivated people to get onto their mats. People who have never been interested in yoga, too, started to ping me with queries about the theory and the practice of asanas. I realized that knowledge of yoga and asana practice was very tip-of-the-iceberg among people. Too many of my acquaintances said ‘we are not as flexible as you to practice yoga”. This got me pondering over why people associate yogic postures with flexibility of the body alone. That’s when I decide to write a post about the meaning of asana and how it relates to posture practice in yoga.
What Asana Means
Asana literally means Seat. Why then is it a suffix for all Sanskrit posture names in yoga? In the days of yore (oh yeah, I just used that phrase), when sages and true yogis practiced asceticism, practicing different postures was simply a means to improve flexibility of muscles, lengthen the spine and elongate the breathe in order to be able to sit indefinitely in a single position. This was the only way they could focus and concentrate on their inward journey. That is why any posture that was practiced was suffixed with asana because it was tool or a catalyst to the end goal of being able to sit still. Sitting cross-legged was enabled by opening up the hips, concentration and focus was improved by lengthening the spine and holding the back muscles erect and calming the breath slowed the mind down.
Asana for flexibility and not flexibility for asana
Today, we are plagued by illnesses and the need for instant gratification so much so that we are unable to sit still for a mere 5 minutes. Our lives have become comparable to that of 5 years olds whose attention monkeys from place to place in under one minute. So we are lead to believe that yoga is for people with flexible bodies. I cannot stress how important it is to break through this thought pattern. Every ‘body’ can practice asanas. With each day of practice our bodies will open up a little bit more. The body will respond a little more with every attempt and that is how we will become flexible. We all may not attain the same level of flexibility or the same mastery of advanced postures, but we will certainly open up new dimensions to our mind-body relationship. We will embark on a journey towards flexibility of our minds. We will be more successful in quietening the mind and bringing a certain stillness to our lives. After all, in a world full of smart technology and instant deliverable, isn’t stillness and quiet what we are all after?