What is “asana”?
Asana is just one part of the deep, rich practice that is yoga… but in our western culture, it is, more often than not, the only part people practice. They might occasionally use a few breathing techniques but rarely are the other limbs of yoga taught.
Somewhere on FB someone posted a question about what movements and poses are ‘actually’ yoga, and then that same week someone new to my classes said to me that they loved I was putting ‘pilates’ and ‘regular’ exercise in the yoga class.
The thing is for me, and this is my interpretation, and I am certain I will get a lot of push back on this, BUT I think all movement has the potential to be an asana practice…..All movement.
Jogging, pilates, hiking, trail running, weightlifting, Zumba and step aerobics. All of it can be asana. Well sort of.
Let’s look briefly at these limb of yoga and try to take into consideration the 7 other limbs (besides Asana) of yoga and see if weaving them into whatever movement you’re doing makes it yoga.
Runners have always used the term “hitting the wall” to imply the place where they can no longer run, extreme fatigue sets in and they cant finish. But most experienced runners know when they may be hitting a wall. When they feel that coming on, they actively turn their awareness back inward, to an internal focus, a concentration on their breathing, on simply putting one foot in front of the other. That internal focus is Dharana, the 6th limb of yoga, meaning concentration, a meditative focus. That’s just one of the ways that running marathons can be yoga. Let’s look at more.
Here are the 8 limbs of Yoga:
1) Yama (The ethical standards and how we live off the mat)
Brahmacharya Right use of energy
2)Niyama (The inner observances)
Isvara Pranidhana Surrender to the Divine
3) Asana (posture, the poses you do on the mat or the movement)
4) Pranayama (breathing techniques/breathwork)
5) Pratyahara (The withdrawal of senses)
“the checking and curbing of the outgoing tendencies of the mind so that awareness can be directed inwards.” ‘Swami Satyananda’
6) Dharana (Concentration / meditative focus)
7) Dhyana (Uninterrupted flow of concentration / complete stillness of mind)
8) Samadhi (Bliss/transcendence of the Self)
So, let’s look at our marathon runner again. To achieve that level of physical and mental fitness required to run 20 + miles, they have probably lived a yoga life and maybe didn’t even know it.
We already looked at using concentration Dharana the 6th limb, but what else?
How about the Yamas and Niyamas, Ahimsa, which means do no harm, so maybe for our runner, that means don’t over-train, and don’t neglect stretching.
Saucha, meaning Cleanliness, could be eating healthy foods that will fuel the body, and avoiding recreational drugs and alcohol.
These are just 2 of the Yoga Ethics, look back at the list and see if you can see where our runner might have use Tapas or Brahmacharya or any of the other Yamas and Niyamas.
Looking down the list at the other limbs we know our runner couldn’t be successful without having some control over his breathing, this is Pranayama.
And Pratyahara, this is the withdrawal of senses, in the case of our runner, this might be the ability to not let the rain or the heat or the bugs or the occasional dog chasing you, to interrupt your concentration. The ability to curb the tendencies of the mind towards negative thoughts.
So, this for me is how all movement can be yoga… because it’s really about intention. It’s about being intentional with your movements, about being mindful and kind to your body. It’s about understanding the tendencies of your mind that limit you and how to overcome them.
It’s about an understanding that your practice of movement is about so much more than just exercise. So much more than just core strength and great glutes. So, the next time you’re in a Zumba class and think you can’t finish think about these 7 other limbs of yoga and see if you can apply them to help you live your best yoga life off the mat. And in your next yoga class notice how those movements that are NOT sun salutations are in fact Yoga.