A status update by Srivatsa Ramaswami yesterday gave me pause.
If I practice asanas alone all my life and expect everything mentioned in Yoga texts to happen to me, then how come Yogis of yesteryears like studied, practiced and taught other yogangas like Pranayama, chanting, meditation, texts and others in addition to those exquisite yoga postures? Am I missing something very vital in my lifelong Yoga practice?
I know many may never get around to reading the Yoga Sutraor any other yoga text. For many,yoga offers the promise of health and fitness, perhaps a greater sense of well being, and yoga as asana, as purely exercise, delivers this with no problem.
This, in and of itself, is enough of a reason to recommend the practice. But what else might we expect to come from our practice of yoga based on a study of the Yoga Sutra and other texts that lies beyond the reach of asana practice alone?
For instance, yoga is suppose to bring about:
- >>clarity and focus
- >>heightened powers of concentration
- >>peace and tranquility
- >>liberation from the tyranny of desires
- >>freedom (with a small f), for some this might signify happiness.
Yoga also claims to offer:
- >>awareness of what is and what is not
- >>knowledge of self and/or God
- >>union with God (depending on your reading)
- >>Freedom (large F)
This is quite a list, and so it’s no wonder Ramaswami suggests asana might not be enough.
Yoga is willful one pointed concentration.
Asana can help develop concentration through self-discipline. With asana practice, we focus on the breath, the bandhas (depending on the style of practice), the posture, the finer points of alignment and we concentrate on all this for an hour or two hours every day (perhaps twice a day).
It improves concentration, but it isn’t necessarily one pointed concentration. There is a lot going on in asana as we shift our attention from breath to bandha to alignment—constantly refocusing and bringing one or the other back online all the time.
Pranayama has many benefits but there is less to think about, we stay in the same posture and can focus on just the breath, the bandhas and perhaps a mantra.
In pratyahara there is even less distractions as we withdraw the senses.
And yet, it’s in the meditation limbs that we really get down to the business of working on one pointedness.
Our asana have calmed our agitation, the pranayama our lethargy and we find ourselves peacefully alert.
We no longer worry about the posture, about the breath, about bandhas; we merely bring our attention back to the object of our concentration: a simple mantra, an image, an icon, a flame, a pebble, our heartbeat, inhalation, exhalation, our ‘third eye.’ The list could go on and on.
With these limbs, we see the frivolity of the mind. Questions jump into our heads and we make a pact with ourselves to explore them at another time perhaps in our studies of the texts where such questions may have been raised before, perhaps with a teacher. We put the questions under erasure and continue to sit quietly renewing our focus again and again.
Our human lineage
Some argue that, as Westerners, we are not ready for the meditation practices, that they are an exclusively ‘Eastern practice,’ that, like children, we are best left to asana. The firmly established western Vipasasana, Zen and Buddhist communities have perhaps finally silenced this argument, quietly getting on with their practice just sitting.
In our tradition we refer to meditation as contemplation, but I’m reminded of the last wedding I attended where the Reverend called on the congregation to take a moment of silent prayer of quiet reflection.
Prayer and reflection, as meditation practices, have always been a part of our culture as surely as every other culture; it’s in our nature, we reflect, we grow silent.
Perhaps in our hectic modern lifestyles our moments of silent reflection aren’t as sustained, as consistent or as disciplined as they used to be. We’re out of practice somewhat, but meditation remains a birthright, our tradition, part of our human lineage.
Krishnamacharya taught asana, pranayama, philosophy and meditative practices. He taught these limbs of yoga for his entire life, to beginners and those more experienced alike. He taught them to women as well as to men and to those from the west as well as from his native India.
To repeat Ramaswami,
…then how come Yogis of yesteryears like Sri Krishnamacharya studied, practised and taught other yogangas like Pranayama, chanting, meditation, texts and others in addition to those exquisite yoga postures?
…Am I missing something very vital in my lifelong Yoga practice?
I started practicing Ashtanga in March 2007, I’d been burgled, felt angry about it and angry that I was feeling angry. I picked up a couple of meditation books from the library and later some on yoga to deal with the anger. I was overweight (94 kilo), unfit and certainly not flexible. I’n the first four years I only went to two Ashtanga Mysore self practice classes. I’ve learnt from books and videos and from comments on my blog. I’m now 76 kilo, feel fitter, stronger and am pretty flexible. In 2008 I started a blog Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga at Home, the beginning this blog dealt with my obsession with achieving the Jump back (and later dropbacks, kapo, karandavasana , Advanced series etc). In June 09 I came across Srivatsa Ramaswami’ ( One of krishnamacharya’s longes serving students) and his ‘The Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga’. I attended Ramaswami’s 200 hour Vinyasa Krama teacher training course in July/Aug 2010 were the focus was on developing an integrated yoga practice.
Editor: Thaddeus Haas