Posture (āsanam) needs to be both firm and alert (sthira) and soft and relaxed (sukham).
PRACTICAL LIVING In the last many sūtras Patañjali has been suggesting that we relate to others in an honest, kind and fair way. He also laid down the foundation for a peaceful life of self-growth by telling us to practice gratitude, be proactive, self-reflect and surrender to life’s natural flow. In this sūtra, Patañjali talks about āsana – posture – what often westerns perceive Yoga to be – only yoga poses. It is helpful to note that out of 195 sūtras, only four mention the body, 4/195.
Practically speaking, in our contemporary sedentary lives, maintaining a body that is both strong yet flexible is great advice. We need to move the spine (which houses the central nervous system) in different directions to keep it supple. Patañjali does not describe a specific methodology here. He simply talks about the qualities of firmness and softness. So whether your way of maintaining physical health is through yoga āsana, dance, swimming, running or something else, begin to notice whether you cultivate both qualities in your body as you’re moving. Generally speaking, we tend to be too firm, too rigid, putting too much emphasis on strength and having an attitude of doing 110%. This attitude frequently leads to pain, which blocks the breath and agitates the mind – the exact opposite of what Yoga suggests. Therefore, an attitude of openness, flexibility and softness are necessary components to keep in mind in our daily activities.
As with anything that Patañjali teaches us, this is not only limited to the physical body. What is the mind doing while you are in Downward facing dog? What is happening with your breath in Chaturanga Dandāsana? Cultivating a balance between effort and ease in the body, and alertness and spaciousness in the mind, is crucial in order to practice āsana to its full benefit. These qualities are fertile seeds for self-reflection: in any moment during our day we can pause and ask ourselves whether we are physically or mentally too stressed, too lethargic, or in that wonderful place of being energized yet relaxed.
IN THE YOGA WORLD As you may have noticed, the sūtras are a guide to internal transformation, and not a guide to the most flexible body or most acrobatic pose (as the media and many often portray it to be). Having said that, if the body – the container that carries the mind and soul – is not working well, it becomes an obstacle to inner change. We all know that when the body is hurting, all the mind thinks of is the hurting body part (the pain becomes a huge distraction). Also, since all layers of our being are interconnected, keeping the outermost sheath healthy is important as well since it will affect the thoughts and emotions. Āsana therefore is a means of keeping our physical structure in a state of balance, allowing us to contain the changes happening within. As Desikachar described it, āsana appropriately practiced has “alertness without tension and relaxation without heaviness”.
In classical meditation techniques, one sustains a seated meditation for prolonged periods of time. In order to do that without having the body become a distraction to the mind (discomfort or pain), we need to prepare it. Āsana is how Patañjali suggests that we prepare the body. We begin with the outermost layer (the physical) to prepare the more subtle parts of us to remain still and silent (meditation). That preparation allows us to hold a posture that is both effortful yet relaxed for prolonged periods of time. And firm yet relaxed āsana, like the other techniques that have been mentioned previously, is a practice – a lifetime practice.
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON Graceful and feminine yet strong and willful, observing Lauren navigate her life is a lesson in itself. Watching Lauren in her āsanapractice is like watching a beautiful ballet. She moves slowly, mindfully with ease. Her āsana classes embody the balance that Patañjali emphasizes on both a physical and mental level. When she demonstrates inversions to her students everyone has their eyes on the smooth and effortless movements she makes as she calmly explains what she is doing. And in real life, she also demonstrates that balance. Her attitude towards relationships seems to be that of a loving warrior. The warrior comes out as she speaks her truth and her loving kindness expresses itself with an amazing sense of humor and a sense that she really cares about you. Lauren, beautiful woman, I learn so much from you and your alive and delightful attitude towards life. Love you!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and next week we will discuss the body in more detail!