Yes, Yoga-Asana is Enough to Change Your Life ~Shy Sayar

Via on Dec 21, 2010

In the last century, asana became very popular in the west under the general name “yoga”. Teachers such as BKS Iyengar and Pathabi Jois brought the practice of asana to America and garnered a great following. While this has had many positive effects on the lives of yoga practitioners in the west, most of us in the US and elsewhere think of asana – the physical poses and sequences – as the whole of yoga.

A recent documentary called “Enlighten Up” explores a dichotomy in the yoga world today between the general western view of yoga as predominantly asana, and the Indian view that asana is merely for the health of the body and that the real yoga is bhakti yoga, complete unwavering devotion to god. It is true that most yoga styles today neglect meditation and study, and overemphasize the practice of asana. Training the body to relax and surrender into challenges can of itself translate to a simpler more joyous lifestyle off the mat. However, it is difficult to sustain and ground the benefits of our practice without a good balance between physical, intellectual, and meditative approaches.

On the other hand, spiritual and religious communities that focus primarily on meditation and sometimes also on studying the mind and the emotions can have tremendous transformational effects on the practitioner. Yet these traditions often altogether overlook the great potential of asana for the transformation of consciousness. When we approach asana practice as a testing ground for our patience, our ability to surrender, and our willingness to be loving and compassionate towards the body, asana becomes a great vehicle for relieving suffering – starting with ourselves and naturally expanding to our fellow beings.

As we come to the mat for asana practice, we can begin by asking how we might be causing difficulty to ourselves. Simply by directing our attention to the body we can begin to identify the ways that we strain ourselves and cause ourselves pain and discomfort. While it can be disheartening to see all the ways in which we are out of balance in our bodies and moreover, it can be tempting to turn to blame and victimhood, asana begins with taking responsibility for the fact that we ourselves are causing our own tension and discomfort. Our ability to transcend the habitual patterns that do not serve us depends on our willingness to observe and accept these patterns as they manifest.

A good question to ask when practicing asana, then, is: “What am I doing?” We can ask what we are doing at this moment with the shoulders and neck, the muscles of the face, with the breath, and even with the thinking mind. We might begin to notice that we habitually formulate our observations as passive victims. “My hips are tense. I don’t know why my shoulders are rising up towards my ears.” Taking responsibility for our experience means that we instead begin to say , “I am tensing my legs. I don’t know why I am lifting my shoulders up to my ears.” Then, the potential for real change can arise as we are empowered to respond to what we see with skillful action. Another helpful question might now arise: “What else could I be doing?” Thus, without rejecting what we observe and striving to change it, we can simply and playfully consider our options more broadly and openly. This in itself offers expansive potential to the mind.

Sometimes simply noticing that we are tensing can be enough to relieve the tension, and the realization that we have been unaware of our own choices and actions regarding our body can inspire us to establish a loving commitment to ourselves and to our practice. If our patterns turn out to have habitual roots that run too deep to be changed simply by noticing them, we get an opportunity to engage our creativity and ask: “What else could I be doing?” A simple yoga asana practice can be helpful in cultivating our creativity and exploring our relationship with the body. Yet it is good to have some guidance from an insightful teacher who can help us notice whether our choices are always the most compassionate.

Yes, yoga-asana is enough to change your life. Just begin by lovingly giving up on ambition and perfectionism, and try be nice to yourself about it.

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About Shy Sayar

Yoga Therapist Shy Sayar teaches classical Hatha yoga, underwritten by yoga's ancient scripture as well as by contemporary science. Shy believes in teaching people, not poses - as the practices of yoga are infinitely adaptable to fit the stages of a practitioner's development, and there is no need to push the body into arbitrary shapes. In his teaching, Shy tries to refrain from overstating esoterics, but his methods of training the body aim to recall classical yoga's stated end of freeing the practitioner from the illusion of identification with anything that was born and will die - the experience of immortality and unity with all of being. As such, he emphasizes the ease of the breath, the serenity of the musculature at work, and the peace of the mind over the postures of the body. At his Yoga One studios in Petaluma and Santa Rosa, CA, Shy teaches classes, trains yoga teachers and sees Yoga Therapy patients. He also teaches literature courses at the University of California at Berkeley, including coursework on the classical literature of India. He holds a degree in music and will at times chant for students in savasana. Shy is revered and admired by two wonderful (albeit unreasonable) cats. He loves practicing yoga on his living room carpet while his cats jump on his back to provide added resistance. He also delights in writing bios in the third person. Lastly, he prides himself on being nobody's guru.


14 Responses to “Yes, Yoga-Asana is Enough to Change Your Life ~Shy Sayar”

  1. I enjoyed reading this Shy, I like how your writing directs attention to this moment, and reminds us to do so in practice, good thing I am about to face the mat and will bring these into it.

  2. Gregg says:

    The last line of my personal version of the Four Vows, which I chant at the end of each sitting meditation session is: "The Great Way is unsurpassable, _may_I_embody_it_truly_." Embodiment for me, is a very important aspect of spiritual practice.

  3. Good advice, Shy. I love back-to-the-basics blogs like this.

    Bob W.
    Elephant Journal

    • Tangled Macrame says:

      Shy & Yoga Journal Editors:

      Love it! As a yoga novice living in the rural midwest, most of my yoga education is solitary and drawn from on-line sources. Elephant is a fantastic resource, but the perspective seems geared more toward advanced practitioners who are refining and reflecting, rather than creating their practice. Articles like this are priceless for us beginners! Have you considered compiling a list or a browsing category of other "back-to-basics" articles?

      • That's a terrific idea, Tangled. That goes on my to-do list for sure. That's exactly the kind of thing I want to do as Yoga Editor–bring Elephant's wealth of great material to readers in new and useful ways.

        Any volunteers to put this list together?

        Bob W.
        Yoga Editor

      • Shy sayar says:

        Hey Tangled, I am happy to hear you found this helpful. I will keep posting with the beginner in mind – not so much out of kindness as rising from the fact that today I feel more like a beginner in yoga than I have in years… Meanwhile, there is a lot more reading of this type on under "writing".


  4. David Lincecum says:

    Thanks for acknowledging the power of asana as transformative. I observe that it often gets “short changed” as something far less than the other limbs, primarily because so many people are doing it. It is truly a great point of entry to greater transformation and may serve as a constant for many people over many years. The awakening process can unfold slowly and the breath work and body awareness gained in asana practice build a strong foundation.

  5. elephantjournal says:

    yes, nice primer on yoga-asana-the body and mind united

  6. Steve says:

    As an initiate I am finding clearly written humility rare, but not with Shy. Thanks.
    Mind, body…it's always one thing or another.

  7. elephantjournal says:


    HannahK has done what years of therapy couldn't do (well, first off I couldn't afford it) taught me how to stand up straight and to move myself through difficult times. Thank you Kundalini!!
    10 hours ago · LikeUnlike ·
    Jason J
    Yoga helped me learn to be me; helped me break out of old patterns in relationships and to start being more authentically honest within them. It is one of the key transformations in life that helped awaken me, and put me back into a spiritu…ally connected relationship with God. It also helped me learn to mentally relax during the trials I face in my physical life and is primarily responsible for helping me shed 80lbs of weight that I had packed on while living an unfulfilled life. Wherever I go, I can't help but lovingly and enthusiastically share how much yoga has transformed my life…Yeah, I'd say it changed quite a bit! :)

  8. […] Yoga, we are offered eight limbs, several paths, styles, branches, schools of thought, and all the associated practices. Which do we choose as […]

  9. […] than entertain excuses, I start pranayama. Then I will myself to asana practice and face the fatigue. I used to dread a tired practice because my insides felt as though […]

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