Why Asana Matters. ~ Robert Wolf Petersen

Via Robert Wolf Petersenon Oct 28, 2013

Photo: Gustavo Peres

Sometimes I think the modern-day yoga community is completely obsessed with body image.

On one hand there’s the Church of the Latter-day Yogi, where practitioners worship at the altar of the celebrity teacher and pay homage to the holy trinity of hundred-dollar yoga pants, smug self-satisfaction, and the holy yoga booty. On the other, there’s the backlash against this kind of blasphemy, the crusade for “realness,” whose advocates rail gleefully against such false idols and decry the vanity of the popular yoga scene.

A friend of mine posted recently on Facebook that her teacher had told her that asana was “the lowest form of yoga,” as though there were something base and faintly disreputable about working with the physical form.

In my view, both of these are inescapably partial perspectives.

Sure, it’s true that a regular asana practice has undeniable positive effects on the physique, and I’m yet to meet someone who has taken up yoga because they desperately want to be less attractive. But that hot yoga bitch abusing some hapless sales clerk is actually nothing more than a hot bitch. If our yoga practice doesn’t permeate our behaviour off the mat, what’s the point?

That said, I don’t buy the opposing viewpoint, that asana-based yoga practice is a mere superficiality, an assignment that can be readily skipped.

We reside in our bodies. Just as it’s hard to function optimally in a messy, run-down home or office, it’s hard to give fully and generously of ourselves when we’re constantly distracted by a nagging tightness in the shoulders or hampered by a bad back.

As Kino MacGregor puts it:  “One of the things that I love about the physical practice of yoga is that the body does not lie. It cannot fake things or cover them up in the same way as the mind.”

Asana is the Tapas, the discipline (not the Spanish finger-food) of yoga. It exists for a reason, the reason being that emotional anxieties, frustrations, and traumas generally have a physical counterpart. Perhaps my congested hips reflect a congestion in my emotional life. Maybe my misaligned spine speaks of a misalignment in my finances.

And, in all likelihood, my mind has twisted up the signals my body’s sending and made them mean something else entirely.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stepped onto the mat preoccupied with some persistent mental script and stepped off it a couple of hours later having resolved a more pertinent underlying issue that I hadn’t even known was bothering me.

That is why asana matters. Not because it’s gonna make you the hottest cookie on the block (although it might). Because the body’s sending regular messages that we’d be wise to listen to, and asana is a great way of tuning in.

Because it’s one thing to go all Patanjali and claim that “yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind,” and it’s quite another to take real, tangible steps towards bringing that about.

 

Like elephant yoga on Facebook.

 

Ed: Dana Gornall

About Robert Wolf Petersen

 

Robert Wolf Petersen has worked on and off as a freelance writer for almost a dozen years, and practiced yoga for nearly as long. Now, he combines the two by writing about yoga. For more of his work, visit his website, check out his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter.

 

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4 Responses to “Why Asana Matters. ~ Robert Wolf Petersen”

  1. thewolfwithinus says:

    I love the post Robert!

    And liking honouring the honesty of the body

    not that Im into yoga or anything ;)

    • robwolfpetersen says:

      Thank you kindly, Mr. Kendall.

      And yes, good point. I'm sure there are many ways of honouring the honesty of the body. Yoga asana just happens to be one I'm familiar with.

  2. John says:

    Excellent.

    I always wonder about yoga teachers who make a living teaching Asana and simultaneously decrying it. Nice to see some support for it. For me yoga is a physical practice that uses the body to work on the mind / emotions. That's what makes yoga different to me. If I want lectures in philosophy or behaviour I'll go and listen to a philosophy professor or preacher. If I want to work on the mind using the mind I'll sit and think. If I want something completely different where those fail I'll do yoga.

    I do wonder about stuff like the Iyengar quote "if the body is not sound how can the mind be sound?" (from memory) – sometimes it does go too far. An injury is often just an accident or bad technique, not some sort of cosmic message, and mental peace is obviously available in all sorts of physical conditions.

    • robwolfpetersen says:

      Thanks John. I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

      "For me yoga is a physical practice that uses the body to work on the mind / emotions." Exactly. That's a pretty good approximation of what it is for me, too. And, while I acknowledge that it needn't be so for everyone, I think there are solid reasons for approaching the mind through the body.

      I agree that it can be tricky to strike a balance between affirming the value of physical practice and excluding those who may not wish to, or be able to, practice asana.

      Personally, I found that the only major injuries I've sustained practicing asana (busting both my knees in garbha pindasana when I wasn't ready for it) were major wake-up calls about the attitude I was bringing to the mat (Bigger! Better! Faster! More!). I accept that others may have different experiences, though.

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