Sthira Sukham Asanam
Your posture should be steady and comfortable.
That is how the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describe Asana (/ˈɑsənə/). It is not the back-breaking, body-twisting movements that we have come to recognize, but simple, steady postures that, synchronized with proper breathing rhythms and performed with the right attitude, inculcate peace, stability, relaxation and self-reliance.
I cannot emphasize this enough, and I would put it on all the advertising boards around the world if I could, the main objective while practising Asanas is NOT to achieve flexibility, or as a quick fix for any physical problems. Asanas help to improve your overall physical and mental health. When practised diligently, they work on subtler areas of the body and mind by way of improving body awareness, mind awareness, breathing rhythm and neuromuscular coordination. Each category of Asanas – forward bending, backward bending, sideward bending, twisting and inversion postures – has its own way of working magic on your body, and keeping it healthy, happy and fit.
Traditionally, Asanas are practised to train your body in such a way that it is able to overcome dualities like heat/cold, pleasure/pain, to focus on the larger goal of meditation, and one-pointed concentration. They are mastered by the yogis and saints of yesteryears with total and steady practise. The yogis are able to strengthen their body so well, that the body does not act as a hindrance to the mind when performing higher yogic practises like Dharna and Dhyana. Basically, a mastery of Asanas gives them the strength to not have the urge to itch their nose everytime they sit in meditation, and cannot move.
Lesser mortals like us, that neither have the capacity, nor the intention of such mighty achievements, need not fuss ourselves with them. We can enjoy the simpler effects by just incorporating a few simple Asanas in our daily routine. Nothing too extravagant, just a couple of standing postures, a couple of sitting, and a couple of lying down ones, followed by Shavasana or relaxation. And relax you must, for your body will not forgive you if you heat it up during your Asana practise and not give it time to cool down.
So, if you are new to Yoga, and I have (fingers crossed) inspired you to start your own practise, or if you already are a practitioner and I have been able to enhance your perspective just a little bit – remember the story of the hare and the tortoise; slow and steady wins the race. Do not be in a hurry to perfectly master all the postures, do not harm yourself in the pursuit of the “perfect body” (which does not exist, everyone is beautiful), and remember that it’s a slow and continuous process to a healthy mind and healthy body. A little bit, everyday, goes a long way.
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