What is a Yoga posture (Asana)? Is the practice of postures a spiritual act?

What do I do with my mind while I hold an Asana?

The western world manage to materialize also yoga practice. But Asana practice can become a spiritual practice”

Yoga practice in the western world is exploding with the Asana practice of yoga. Like everything else in this part of the world, we mange to materialize also yoga practice, taking the one of the most gross aspects of yoga, which we can measure and touch, and make from it all the yoga we know and practice.

It wasn’t like that in the past. The practice of postures was just a part of a few yogic systems such as Hatha, Raja, and Tantra. It was never disconnected from the other practices of Yoga, and mostly used as a mean for purification of the body and preparation for the more subtle practices.

Master Patanjali dedicated two verses in the Yoga Sutras for the practice of postures. In the first one, “Sthira Sukham Asanam”, he says Asana should be steady and comfortable. The explanation of Patabhi Joice to what perfect Asana is, “you can sit for three hours with steadiness and happiness, with no trouble. After you take the legs out of the asana, the body is still happy.” Asana literally means Seat, and that make sense, since most of the postures, which being described in the old Hatha yoga scriptures are seated postures.

There are two important points here; the first is that a yoga pose should be steady. For how long Patanjali doesn’t say. We can see today many new yoga styles that move from one posture to the other without holding any pose; in this way they lose the coherence with Patanjali idea about Asana.

The other point is that a pose should be comfortable. This feeling of ease in the pose, we can maintain either by relaxing any not necessary muscular tension, or and by deepening and slowing down our breath while holding the pose. Our state of mind, which directly influenced by the breath, can be kept in ease in all times even if there is an intense muscular tension. That’s how we can achieve Sukham.

Even thou Asanas are design mainly for the physical body and as preparation, it has also subtle affects and can be used as a spiritual practice. The practice of postures can help to purify and balance the energy body and the Astral body. Especially balancing between the Sun (Pingala) and Moon (Ida) energies though-out the network of Nadis (energy tubes), which is spread along the whole body.

But asana practice can become a spiritual practice. If when we hold the pose we practice Pratyahara (withdraw of the senses inside) and Dharana (concentration), if we concentrate our mind on one point of the body, and if we are able to disconnect ourselves from any external stimulation, than it become a spiritual act. Concentration can be done on any point of the body, Chakra or on a strained part of the body, but also can be done on the breath itself. The ability to disconnect ourselves from any external sensual sensations by the power of our own mind, is an important stage toward a deep sense of peace, and towards the end goal of Yoga.

The practice of Yoga postures can become also an act of Devotion to the supreme, or what we can also call Karma Yoga. If we dedicate the fruits of the practice to another person, or dedicating it to the supreme consciousness, than our practice become an act of devotion and selfless service. In this way Asana practice is not anymore a superficial action of the physical body, done for our own egoistic needs, but rather a spiritual act.