Asana in context of Yoga Philosophy
To master yoga asana, we begin by excelling at the art of practice. There is more than just the showing up and showing off— the way in which we practice, the method itself, is the scene of evolution.
For every thought supported by feeling, there is a muscle change. Primary muscle patterns being the biological heritage of man, man's whole body records his emotional thinking. —Mabel Ellsworth Todd
When we think of the body in relationship to the whole life we live, the emotions, the actions, the mind, then we are ready consider asana in context of the philosophical path of yoga. We can develop practice from theory, knowledge from practice, wisdom from the body as it changes and reveals a truer, leaner, lighter expression of itself.
Today we find lifestyle as a result of asana. What is asana when we consider it in context of yoga morality?
The Yamas and Niyamas are essentially the guidelines to living a good-vibes-only life, though of course ancient yogis didn’t frame it in those words. These are the words they used, in Sanskrit, with explanations of how the ten principles are really facets of the one: good vibes only.
When we come to the mat, we study ourselves in mind and movement (svadyaya), see the truth (satya), which inspire us to do the work (tapas) for clean body-mind (saucha), which creates a purity, innocence from harm (ahimsa). In this state, we live lightly (aparigraha), needing less and only wanting what comes for us (asteya). We are naturally content with what is (saantosha), and without cravings or desires, we are chaste/impeccable with our energy (bhramacharya). Then we can devote our time-space-good-vibes-only life to a higher purpose (Ishvara pranidhana).
All of these Sanskrit words fold into the concept of purity, detachment from the normal and movement towards the sacred, saintly: best expressed by the Greek word hagnos. These are the human qualities that make us divine, make work and worship effective, because they concentrate our power.
Morality is the beginning; asana follows, and samadhi is last. What is asana in context of the ultimate bliss? When we step on to the mat, we constantly and consistently step away from the known, towards the elusive, the infinite, the vanishing point of full enlightenment. Practice goes beyond the purpose of having a purpose. It is the best monotonous activity, like a child’s favorite game; an increasingly familiar place, like a state of being.
What does Patanjali say about asana itself? Not very much; most of the sutras are devoted to aspects of mind, practice, and the enlightened state. About asana, we are told instructed that effort meets ease.
Today, we would describe that as efficacy: work feels minimal because we have learned to apply force with a precision that results in maximum effect. Consider the physics equation: work equals force times distance. When effort meets ease, we have minimal force, and maximum distance (or, this case, depth) for work that does not feel like work.
One way to minimize the force/energy we need to apply in asana practice is by engaging in all the good vibe lifestyle factors, decreasing the friction between our life off the mat and our practice on the mat. When there are fewer traumas/toxins to heal from, the work that we do on the mat goes much further/deeper, and easier. The energy that we generate through peaceful, easy living can be applied to the practice, and vice versa, in a positive cycle.
The body is a series of interrelated systems, a micro economy, where harmony is efficacy. With steady practice of asana, we create the healing and the internal order that makes the body efficient, requiring less energy for high function. This allows us to allocate more energy for the highest functioning of the mind, which is what yogis have always sought.