hello every body, welcome to Atma's blog. Today we are going to talk about Asana, the third limb of Raja yoga. Asana means meditation seat, and it makes reference to the posture that is used while meditating. Contrary to what is believed in the West, Yoga Asanas, or physical postures, are preparatory for meditation, and not a sport.
In the West Yoga is known for its acrobatic postures, however Asanas have always been a preparatory step for the stage of meditation and Samadhi. In order to be able to meditate we have to withstand and hold a sitting posture for long hours, and at the beginning this is quite difficult. The second we sit and hold a meditative posture, our body starts to ache, making it difficult to enter a meditative state. This is why in order to be able to hold a meditative posture, we must first train our body to sit still and our consciousness to move beyond the body. There are 4 main meditative postures that can be used to meditate. These are: Swastikasana, Siddhasana, Padmasana, and Sukhasana.
In order to meditate, you don’t need to master all four Asanas. You can choose whichever one you feel more comfortable with and stick to it. It is true that each Asana can provide a slightly different meditation experience, but for starting a regular meditation practice, one is more than enough.
You’re probably asking yourself the question: why if only one Asana is required, we see so many images of people doing crazy postures? The practice of physical postures to invigorate the body, comes from Hatha yoga, which is a form of yoga that was created in the 15th century. Hatha yoga uses physical postures and other practices to energize and cleanse the body before meditation. And although postures are a fundamental part of Hatha yoga, there are many other Hatha practices that move beyond the body.
In the west we are familiar with the practice of sport and exercise, so we have taken the practice of Asanas as the main goal of yoga. We have diluted the true purpose of yoga which is meditation, and we have turned it into a sport activity. Don’t get me wrong, Asanas provide great benefits to our physical and mental health, but just as any other form of physical exercise. Only when you start practicing meditation you can experience the true benefits of Yoga.
I remember when I was doing my teacher training in India, that I soon realized that Yoga was much more than what I had seen in the West. However, even the Yoga schools in India, had been placing a great amount of focus on Asanas, and were leaving out, all the important practices of meditation. When I asked the teachers about it, their answer was that they focused a lot on postures just because westerners demanded it. As you can imagine I was very disappointed with this, because it was becoming clear that the true practice of Yoga was being lost.
I'm not criticizing that yoga practices in the west focus mainly on postures, because everybody has to start somewhere. Starting by practicing Asanas is a great was to remove the pain from your body and start meditating. However I strongly believe that yoga in the west should move its focus beyond exercise, and focus on meditation where the true benefits of yoga can be experienced.