Yoga can lead to a total freedom of the body and mind. It is a spiritual path that helps us to find refuge, discover our true self and experience what life really means. The most well known aspect of yoga is asana which means posture, specifically a ‘comfortable and steady posture’ - like it is mentioned in the “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” - ‘sthiram sukham asanam’. Unfortunately most of the modern yoga today places an incorrect emphasis on this aspect. There is only focus on the acrobatic ability of the body which is a total misunderstanding of the concept of asana and the opportunity that yoga provides to us.
First benefit that the asana can give us is to bring our body into alignment. Usually we fail to pay attention and give awareness to our misalignment and therefore cause ourselves more damage. Our minds correspond with our bodies and therefore when our physical being is misaligned; our mental state is misaligned as well.
When we experience the alignment of the body and mind we benefit nourishment from the yoga practice. Bringing our body into alignment will allow the breath to be as it should be – a deep, flowing, fully nourishing breath. When we are misaligned, the breath will be short and insufficient, therefore creating more stress in the muscles and the mind. Furthermore we will never be able to experience freedom when our breath is not free. The asana will open the body in a way that the breath can flow easily, and this also indicates to us whether we are performing the asana correctly or not.
Along with this misalignment and restricted breath, we also hold a lot of tension, stress and pain in our body. Asana can relieve this as well. However in order to release this stress from our body, we must incorporate our mind. The mind is always turning outward. While we practice asana, we want to reverse this action and bring it inward, allowing it to be a witness to the tension, pain and imbalance in our body. By doing this while performing the asana practice correctly – the tension is released. Ramana Maharishi once said that ‘when we clean the house, we don't analyze the garbage’. In the same way, we don't want to analyze the pain and the stress – we simply want to release it and let go.
This is the only way we can truly experience the benefit of yoga. At the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Center in India we teach asanas from this point of view. Furthermore unlike many styles of yoga, we do not give an over emphasis on the body and its appearance. When all the attention is focused on how an asana looks from outside, the body suffers, we create tension and it becomes an ego practice. In this manner, it is easy to identify and become attached with this superficial part of our being, narrowing ourselves into becoming only what people want us to be. This is not yoga. This is not asana practice. The most wonderful benefit asana practice helps us to achieve is to reveal our true Self by dropping the ego. It helps us to understand experience and connect with the supreme Self, the ultimate truth of who we really are.
Through our yoga practice, asana uses a combination of three different qualities within our being– the mind, the body and the breath. The right understanding of how to use these, will bring us into balance and harmony. Asana practice is not merely a physical exercise, it is much more than that. It brings the body/mind structure into alignment, improves the breath, releases tension and gives us opportunity to reach into a higher level of ourselves, our divine nature.
Kobi Siman Tov