By: Tess McGrath
“The yogi conquers the body by the practice of asanas and makes it a fit vehicle for the spirit. A soul without a body is like a bird deprived of its power to fly” -B.K.S. Iyengar
The practice of yoga is an ancient tradition that has been carried down over thousands of years from India. The ancient teachings reveal more than just yoga postures as we know them today. The path of yoga is made up of eight limbs that are ultimately meant to guide a practitioner to enlightenment or union of the body, mind, and soul with a universal consciousness.
The eight limbs of yoga or the journey to enlightenment include the Yamas (ethical disciplines), Niyamas (rules of conduct), Asanas (physical postures), Pranayama (expansion of breath or life force), Pratyahara (removal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (enlightenment).
Asana is the limb that many of us recognize as yoga in the modern world. These are the physical postures and movements of the body. Asana is what often brings people to yoga initially. This is a wonderful thing, because at some point in a person’s practice they begin to learn the deeper history and spiritual aspect of the practice.
BKS Iyengar, who is one of the Indian yoga masters credited with bringing asana to the western world says, “Asanas should be performed in such a way as to lead the mind from attachment to the body towards the light of the soul so that the practitioner may dwell in the abode of the soul.” Iyengar taught his students that there are 2 aspects to each asana posture: pose and re-pose. First, we pose to get the body into the physical shape of the posture. Then, we re-pose by readjusting and making micro-movements to bring the body into its optimal alignment. In this state of alignment, the body can feel rested and the mind can experience tranquility. Alignment also opens our energy channels so that pranic energy can move most efficiently throughout the body.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the earliest written documentations of yoga (200-400 A.D) it states that “yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of mind” (Sutra I.2).
In my experience, I have found asana to be a form of moving meditation. When moving through asana, I am focused on every detail of action happening within my own body until I reach a point in the pose where I feel comfort and bliss. Here the body and the asana become one, my mind stills, and I experience clarity and peacefulness. When I get to the end of a practice, I often realize I have not thought of any worries, stresses, or minute details of life. These moments in time are a crucial aspect to my physical and mental well-being. I am grateful for the rare moments in my day when I can completely unplug and go inward, which is difficult to come by in this age of being constantly connected.
The beauty of the yogic path, is that the lessons you learn from each of the eight limbs can be constantly translated into your everyday life. The lessons I learn in my asana practice can be carried off my mat thus making me a forever-student; constantly learning and growing on the path of yoga and the path of life.
Tess is a certified 200-hour yoga instructor who studied at the Costa Rica School of Massage and Yoga. She teaches asana classes regularly in Samara, and is the Director of Operations at the Costa Rica School of Massage and Yoga.