I read an article once in a magazine that had this headline: “Is Asana Enough?” The article was about whether or not practicing yoga was enough for someone to stay in prime physical shape. But that’s not what this piece is about. I’m wondering if asana is all one needs for a yoga practice.
“Asana” actually means, by most standard Sanskrit definitions, “seat”. But the term, which is a suffix at the end of most yoga pose names (Purvottanasanana, Baddha Konasana, Trikonasana), is often used to encapsulate yoga poses in general, any and all of them, in a sequence or series of any kind. For a large majority of Western yoga practitioners, asana is king. We go to asana classes, take asana workshops, buy asana props. There are places to do meditation, but the classes or groups are often run by Buddhist practitioners, not yogis. Modern day yogis roll out sticky mats, they don’t plop down on zafus. There are eight limbs of yoga, according to Patanjali, and only one is asana. If you only do asana, are you only doing one eighth of a complete practice?
It’s easy to say that asana-only practitioners aren’t true yogis because all they do is jump around in fashionable leotards, get blissed out by intense pranic flow, and then indulge with fellow practitioners in organic, fair trade dark chocolate after class. But wait. Who’s to say that many of the eight limbs of yoga can’t be practiced while on the mat? Many asana practitioners are acquainted, at least in part, with the ethical guidelines that yogis abide by—i.e., the yamas and niyamas. Ujjayi, the victorious breath that is often practiced in asana, is a bona fide pranayama practice. The three concentration practices mentioned in the eight limbs (pratyahara, dharana, and dhyana) can be used in yoga asana practice. Can you can attain samadhi in shoulder stand? I don’t know. But that’s not so much a practice in yoga as it is a potential result.
So, what do you think? Can one experience the whole range of yogic experience by simply practicing asana? Is seated meditation an essential part of the practice that is often overlooked? Can too much asana have a negative effect on a contemplative practice like yoga? Write in and share your view!
I agree with the comments about yoga teachers who see themselves as gurus being over the top. I live near the city of London, Ontario and there are so many people offering “Certified Courses” and there is a group that even use letters after their names . It took me four years to get a BA and another four (because I was writing a thesis) to gain a Masters and these people are doing 200 hours of yoga in three months and reading 40 classics during that time. Who can believe that?
So many teachings are done in short stints these days; however, one knows that one CANNOT learn unless the experience is there too. I am also totally put off with Yoga that has one hanging from the ceiling in a hammock, or Yoga that is “hot” or “fast” or many other bastardizations of this ancient art and philosophy.
Additionally, some of these versions of Yoga are dangerous and not healing or comforting or relaxing at all. I have been involved in Yoga and T’ai Chi for over forty years as both a student and a teacher. If the philosophy is not taught then the manifestation of the philosophy should be called something else. “A Class in Yoga Asanas,” for example, and all these non-Yoga items should not use the word at all.
Can the word “Yoga” be identified with a definition that demonstrates the qualities of a true yoga class? I was a founding member of the Federation of Ontario Yoga Teachers in Toronto in the 1970s and those who worked on these definitions were often highly criticized by those who “just wanted to get on with it and enjoy yoga.”
I was very happy to see your site and to read some of the comments and hope you are able to open a few sleeping eyes to the spiritual background of Yoga. I have been friends with many of the people in my classes over the years, and still am, but I agree, friendships during the class are not appropriate, although I am not sure how you can favour one over the other when teaching a class.