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Achieving Asana
The Key to a Yoga Pose Well Done is the Key to a Life Well Lived

Most people these days come to Yoga via the Asanas, or postures. They're looking for a way to increase flexibility, to relax, or to exercise in a way that's not boring. They don't realize that Asana is only one limb of Yoga's Eightfold Path, which also includes the Yamas (Restrictions) and Niyamas (Observances), Pranayama (Breathing), Pratyahara (Detachment), Dharana (Concentration), Dhyana (Meditation) and Samadhi (Enlightenment). The essential information about the Eightfold Path is contained in the Yoga Sutras, an ancient spiritual text written by Patanjali. Not much is known about Patanjali - in fact, some sources claim that more than one person used this name to write the Sutras. The Yoga Sutras are four very concise chapters - anyone could scan through them in an hour (although this certainly isn't the recommended way to read them!). Within those brief lines is a world of wisdom. In fact, just three verses out of the Sutras not only tell you the proper way to approach an Asana, they explain the proper way to approach life. These are Verses 46-48 from Chapter 2. There are literally hundreds of translations of the Yoga Sutras (which were originally written in Sanskrit); the following version comes from the Light Mission:

(Article continued below.)

46
A posture assumed by a Yogi must be steady and pleasant.

47
When command over the postures has been thoroughly attained, the effort to assume them is easy; and when the mind has become thoroughly identified with the boundlessness of space, the posture becomes steady and pleasant.

48
When this condition has been attained, the Yogi feels no assaults from the pairs of opposites.

Let's take the verses one by one. According to the Sutras, the Asana must be "steady and pleasant." Chances are that not every single posture in your practice feels "steady and pleasant"! But that's really how they should be. If they aren't steady and pleasant right now, there are ways of achieving that - the use of props, for example, or doing a modified version of the pose, or backing off until the pose is "steady and pleasant." This doesn't mean you shouldn't challenge yourself - you just need to find a place of comfort as your foundation first. You must feel stable and confident before you can move on to discover your body's potentials. The same thing applies to everyday life - you must find a place of comfort and assurance within yourself; only then will you know your true potential. All action should come from that inner center.

Verse 47 urges you to relax and meditate on the infinite. This sounds abstract, but it doesn't have to be. When you're focused on your practice and it's moving along seamlessly, you're halfway there - that type of relaxation is easy to understand. You might be doing a complicated or difficult pose, but it just feels easy and right. Have you ever gone to the next level, where you're suddenly struck by how limitless life is - that elation of knowing that all things are possible? (If you haven't, you've really got something to look forward to!) You've spontaneously entered into that boundless space. You do that occasionally in life, too - every time you look up into a starry night sky with a quiet mind, you go there. The secret is to take that feeling into the rest of your day, to approach life in a relaxed manner, and with that sense of boundlessness. It turns every moment into something special and unique.

As for the "pairs of opposites" - what's the first thing you think of when you approach an Asana? Is it, "I can/can't do this pose"? Then what might be your next thought? Either, "I'm doing good - I can do this pose!" or "I'm doing horribly - I can't even do this pose!" This is an example of being "assaulted" by the pairs of opposites! The opposites are a creation of the mind and its need to judge, classify and take over the process of decision-making. According to the mind, life is made up of opposites - good-bad, hot-cold, light-dark. The truth is that life just is, and it's only as subjective as we make it. When you are truly centered you have a clearer view of things and your actions come from your intuition, not from some complicated thought process. When you have a Yoga session that's free from judgment it is usually pretty smooth and enjoyable, even if you look back later and realize you didn't do every pose perfectly. At the time you were doing the poses it didn't matter - you were just doing them. Imagine approaching life that way - it would certainly contain a lot less angst! "What if" and "should" would disappear from your vocabulary. Your actions would come from a place of wisdom and love and those nagging little feelings of doubt would come to an end.

Yoga is an incredible physical practice. But the next time you're practicing Triangle, and your hips hit just the right spot, your ribcage opens and your thighs remain active, remember - within your pose there are deeper lessons that will last long after you've rolled up your mat and gone on your way.

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