ASANA, JOYFUL POSTURE.
Certainly, the physical aspect of yoga has become the most popular expression of yoga nowadays. In fact, when people say yoga, the implied meaning is most often the practice of postures and movements with very little, if any, regard for an integrated and balanced articulation of all the practice guidelines compiled by Patañjali. Some of the meanings of asana in Sanskrit include abiding, stool, dwelling, place, seat, stopping, sitting, sitting down, and posture. When the word asana is broken down into separate sounds, the Sanskrit dictionary offers the following meanings for the particle “as” means to be present, to exist, to inhabit, to celebrate and to make one’s abode in. The particle “sa” means knowledge and meditation. And “na” means vacant, empty. Thus, asana can be interpreted as living in knowledge and meditation, empty of distractions, free of likes and dislikes. The three verses about asana in the Yoga Sutra, make up only 1.5% of the total 196 verses. The practice of postures, just like the practice of the yamas and the niyamas, provides one opening for exploring with playful curiosity how to abide in a state of presence, free of distractions. In the Yoga Sutra, the yamas, the niyamas, and favoring uplifting thoughts and actions (pratipaksha bhavana) are presented before asana to provide a framework for the conscious exploration of asana to optimize the functioning of all physical and physiological systems without strain or struggle. Consider that pranayama is the next limb along the journey, so asana can be practiced as a way to optimize the flow of vital energy and intelligence through your whole being.
2.46 Steady and joyful posture.
The importance of balance between being and doing reappears here. Asana consists of striking a balance between steadiness and joy. Steadiness is an expression of consistent practice (abhyasa 1.12, 1.13 and 1.14) facilitated by single pointed focus (ekagrata 1.32). Joy results from cultivating peace of mind through wise attitudes (1.33), practicing purity and clarity (shaucha 2.32, 2.40 and 2.41), and developing contentment (santosha 2.32 and 2.42). Moreover, releasing attachments and expectations (vairagya 1.15 and 1.16) leads to being deeply at ease within. Asana is joyful abiding through creating a steady body that is completely at ease. Just like you adjust the firmness of your grip depending on what you are holding in your hand – a flower, an apple, a heavy book, or a baby’s hand – this verse asks practitioners to become skillful in adjusting posture and movement in a graceful articulation of strength, flexibility, and relaxation.
Does the definition of asana as present abiding in meditative emptiness describe your yogasana practice?
Do you have a tendency towards more firmness or more ease?
Is there any strain, struggle or self-judgement in your physical yoga practice? How do you ensure that you are balancing your strength, flexibility, and relaxation?
Are your movements and posture fostering a sense of steady and enduring joy?
Is that a sustainable state for you?
If the steady joy is intermittent, what are the distractions pulling you away from that centeredness? (Remember that feeling tired, sleepy, agitated, very thirsty and hungry after asana practice may be symptoms that you are trying too hard.)
Can balance between steadiness and joy be extended to the rest of your daily activities?
Take a posture that is easy for you and make it firmer during your inhalations and more comfortable during your exhalations. Then try to modulate the right amount of firmness and comfort and notice what changes. Repeat the previous suggestion with a posture that is challenging for you. What do you notice?
When you move from one posture to another can you try to make your movements as slow, fluid, and smooth as possible?
How do you feel when you move in this way?
Does this give you any insight into how you work and how efficient you can be?
Observe your usual actions, such as walking, talking, moving, carrying things, folding your clothes.
Do you find that you achieve a balance between steadiness and ease in your actions?
What are your tendencies?
Are those tendencies similar to what you find when you are practicing yoga postures?
As usual, one more way of exploring the meaning of this sutra is by chanting it.
You can choose to chant it in its traditional form with some of the words coming together:
Another option is to chant each word in the sutra individually:
If you prefer, you may listen to the podcast: