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

Via Shy Sayar
on Dec 21, 2010
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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.


About Shy Sayar

Shy Sayar is a teacher and therapist with over 5000 hours of experience bringing yoga to students of all levels, treating patients, and training yoga teachers around the globe. Shy believes in Teaching People – Not Poses, since the practices of yoga are infinitely adaptable to fit the practitioner’s stages of development, and there is no need to push the body into arbitrary shapes. Instead, his Tantravaya yoga method integrates the classical Eight Limbs of Yoga, equally cultivating the body, breath and mind to bring each practitioner to optimal, holistic health. While the ultimate aim of yoga is to reveal the interconnectedness of all beings as the expression of one eternal life, Shy’s teaching refrains from overstating esoterics and focuses instead on bringing about this awakened consciousness by emphasizing the ease of the breath, the integrity of the musculature at work, and the serenity of the mind. Shy is the founder and owner of Yoga One Studios in Northern California. He has offered coursework on education and pedagogy, as well as yoga philosophy and classical Indian literature at the University of California, Berkeley. In his yoga teaching, Shy integrates his experience in higher education with skillful attention to different learning styles, making even the most complex teachings approachable to every student. His unique Tantravaya Yoga Therapy method has shown remarkable results in posture correction, pain relief and improved balance, as well as healing emotional trauma and addressing the roots of psychological symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. Himself an avid athlete, Shy works with both elite and amateur athletes – including equestrians, runners, climbers, et al. – in order to maximize performance while preventing injury, as well as expediting recovery from injury. He is internationally recognized for offering the highest quality Yoga Teacher Trainings around the world, with exceptional emphasis on the sciences of anatomy and physiology, classical and contemporary theory and philosophy, and the most extensive practical training. He also specializes in teaching anatomy, physiology, diagnostics and therapeutics in teacher training programs worldwide.


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

  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. 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?

  9. 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

  10. Shy Sayar says:

    Thank you, Steve, I am genuinely touched.

  11. 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".


  12. Shy Sayar says:

    Claudia, your comment made me smile, thank you. I enjoy the idea that my thoughts might have enhanced your practice, if only a little bit =)

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