Is Asana Real Yoga?

I suspect you’ve noticed a dichotomy in modern yoga practice: Yoga, you may have heard, is not about the poses, no matter how pretty they look.

So why do we bother to practice asana?

Quite simply: asana is a medium for massive transformation.

You can make a cake rise with baking soda or an egg, apple cider vinegar or a vegan flax seed mash. The pan may be greased with butter or oil. The medium is your choice. In the wide world of yoga, we are blessed with at least 8 possible mediums for bringing our lives into greater alignment.

Here’s what happens on my mat in my chosen medium: in a concentrated period of time practicing yoga asana, I focus, I face self-doubts, I try new (or old) things, I occasionally experience massive breakthroughs (mind, body and/or spirit), and connect with my body as it is in that moment. I grease the wheel. By unwinding the knots and inevitable aches of inhabiting an aging body (time keeps ticking), my conscious mind finds a little spaciousness from what would likely otherwise be physical signals of discomfort.

But then again, yoga poses are sometimes uncomfortable.

Dichotomy.

The philosophical, ancient, textual definition of asana involves two qualities: stira, often translated as steadiness, and sukha, ease, sweetness or comfort.

If that’s not the exact constellation of adjectives that comes to mind when you think about tree pose or chaturanga dandasana, I won’t call you a bad yogi. When you come back to the mat for more practice, the act of practice itself spirals you closer to the essence of yoga (a slowing of the thought waves of the mind).

Steadiness is not the absence of wobbles, but presence and determination in the face of such awkwardness. Ease is not the opposite of challenge. It is a quality to cultivate in moments of difficulty.

Asana = skills for life itself.

Day to day, I suspect that you, like me, have ups and downs — on the mat and off the mat. Over the arc of time, with diligent practice in whatever medium brings light to your life (whether it is labeled yoga or not, asana or selfless service), we shift toward greater strength, softness, resilience, stira and sukha, a dance with the inevitable discomforts of life itself.

That is why yoga asana is called practice.

For me, there is no dichotomy in my of unashamedly asana-based workshops that I lump under the title Yoga 108: Advance Your Practice. Drop-in classes rarely allow for a rigorous inquiry into the qualities of alignment, focus, and steadiness in asana. Sometimes I ponder whether the plethora of drop-in vinyasa classes is leaving many students sailing along on coattails without depth of instruction (see my blog post on Teaching vs. Telling Yoga) or any sense of progress or increased connection between mind, and spirit.

Wouldn’t it be nice to feel sukha, or ease, in a pose that is practiced as frequently as chaturanga dandasana?

Chaturanga Clinic, Bakasana Like a Boss, Conquer Headstand, Forearm Flight and Juice the Flow: Conscious Transitions in Vinyasa are the 5 workshops I’m teaching Tuesday evenings in July (at Epic Yoga DC in Dupont Circle). If you are skeptical, you might join and see for yourself. If you can’t make it, I hope you comment below: what do YOU think about this “dichotomy” of modern yoga?

With gratitude for this space to share, and for your attention,

Ariele

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