These days, by and large, we celebrate the physical benefits of yoga – and there are many! Hatha (body-focused) yoga is most popular in the western world and offers a ton of gorgeous postures, or asanas, for our personal betterment or to share with the world.
Instagram and Pinterest offer us so many tutorials and how-tos for creating that perfect yoga shape. In our pursuit of the next beautiful posture, it can be easy to lose sight of the “why.” Why are we doing the asanas we’re doing?
Maybe the reason is fully physical. We have tight hamstrings, so we sink into a deep wide-legged forward fold. Our shoulders are sore, so we play in Puppy Pose.
I love the physical benefits of my practice. I got into yoga in middle school to give myself a mode of exercise that wasn’t too hard on my tender muscles and fragile joints. But sometimes I start to itch for something else. A bigger reason. An older one.
In the Sanskrit, Asana means “seat.” It refers to the postures the ancient yogis would adopt to facilitate their meditation. Every asana they practiced was designed to align the energy in their bodies and get their minds into the proper state for the type of meditation they wanted to practice.
Nowadays the little meditation I do in each asana has more to do with getting into and out of the postures than getting out of my mind and into my higher Spirit. I’d like to change that. I’d like to do more Dharana (single-pointed focus meditation) than it takes to stay balanced in Tree Pose and more Dyana (detachment from the mundane) than I find in a deep, yummy Yoga Nidra session.
I still love yoga for its physical benefits and I don’t see anything wrong with practicing Hatha yoga for that reason! My practice can serve more than one purpose, and yoga is, at its core, what I need it to be.
But as I lever my way into the balance poses, or twist myself into the more pretzel-y ones, I want to reconnect with the ancient yogis who, millennia before me, knew that meditation and growth starts with the asana.
Asana is only the third limb of the tree of yoga for a reason, after all.