It’s quite paradoxical that in a booming age of Yoga, Asana is completely misused, misunderstood or misplaced altogether.
The misuse I’m referring to has many threads but mostly how asana has unfolded into a never ending abyss of contortionism all over the internet which in many cases serve to assert asana’s covert undercover position as an ego booster. So that’s not a great outcome for a practice which depending on where you look, either invites you to accept your body as it is or, realize that your true, blissful nature is in no way dependent on your body…
The misunderstanding is interchangeable with this misuse. Asana, no matter how advanced the posture is or how far your toe may go into your ear etc. should not be taken to appease your suffering, nor will it automatically re-organize the complex issues we have in our psyche no matter what we’ve been told. There is no doubt that there is an incredible amount of evidence to suggest the immense benefits of asana on our physiology and neurology, and I genuinely have been enthralled that in many respects I would see that Yoga, including the asana, paves the way for psychotherapy long before that notion was birthed in the modern age. Yet, asana is been misunderstood so much, that it is actually perpetuating feelings centered around low self-esteem and low self-worth, and again, under a covert idea that if it’s more ‘advanced’ then it correlates toward ‘development’…
It All Leads to…
… misplacement, which I guess also carries on from the previous point. We live in a time where-by most physical based Yoga practice is sold to us and packaged alongside the beautiful philosophical umbrella of the ‘Classical Yoga of Patanjali’, which even just for a curious practitioner like me, will indeed reveal itself to be a beautiful, complex text. It grapples with some incredible theories of the human construct in its subtlest forms, yet it doesn’t really directly correlate to the world of many asanas of which we are constantly subjected to. If anything, the Patanjali Yoga outlines conceptions that are the complete inverse to the body-focussed viewpoint of the later Hatha Yogis, upon which much of the theory of the body (koshas, vayus, kundalini etc.) has stemmed from.
Maybe I see that asana is in a bit of an existential crisis?
However I don’t think that’s all bad. It largely will depend on whether you view those above points as the norm or rather as exceptions or anomalies and this in-turn will probably depend on how you engage with social media and from where you have been lucky or unlucky enough to receive your teachings and practices.
What has shed some light on it all for me has been this. I recently found out that Asana was also synonymous with the word Pitham, meaning ‘holy site’ or ‘pilgrimage’, whilst the word Asana itself in Sanskrit was also used to denote any physical posture. Taken in this conext, we can start to maybe have a broader, general sense of asana.
It is true that we are living in a time were reverence for our body is threadbare.
Even instances where we find that we care for our body, we subsequently ignore its whole unitary existence by abusing it in another way, i.e. ‘I’ve went to the gym so I’m good to eat extra sugar tomorrow’… and it’s fine, we all do it, I do it. It’s also healthy in many respects to do that too! But the point I’m getting at is that not only should that be the exception but that we also have the ability to come to a point of connection with our body every-day. To journey on that pilgrimage inward, to go to that holy site. It’s not just ‘a body’ or ‘the body’ but ‘our body’, and asana – in whatever form manifests through you – is that vehicle to embark on that daily trip.
So if Asana represents the seat as Patanjali does say, then the seat of our soul simply watches all these exterior happenings. We can choose to be in our seat, we can choose to be in our vehicle and we can take the journey.
Maybe the necessary journey for our body-mind is just this:
To go through all of these areas of misuse, misunderstanding, and misplacement only to come back again and sit graciously with a deep awareness and knowing of how to use, how to understand and how to place our asana.