So let’s keep moving along in our discovery of the 8 limbs of yoga! We have discussed the yamas and the niyamas, and that brings us to the 3rd limb, asana. As you probably already know, asana refers to the physical practices, exercises, or postures, which are what most people think about when they hear the word “yoga”. So asana is often the first limb that people begin to practice, as was the case for me. When I started practicing yoga, I had no idea about the other 7 limbs, nor any idea of the depth of my inner space that I would reach through yoga. I had no idea about the idea of self-realization or inner exploration, nor how yoga would affect my mind and spirit, just as much as it would my body. And I think asana is an excellent place to start, because the body is such a perfect entryway to the deeper aspects of yoga. As Dr George Sheehan says “The mind’s first step to self-awareness must be through the body”.
So yoga asana refers to a wide variety of physical postures, which are practiced in many different sequences and many different styles of yoga. From chair yoga to restorative yoga, to yin yoga, ashtanga yoga, and vinyasa yoga, there are styles out there for every person and for every different stage of each individual’s life. As Krishnamacharya famously said “If you can breathe, you can do yoga”. Yoga asana can be very slow and gentle or extremely vigorous, depending on which style you practice. Yoga asana moves the body into different positions to strengthen the physical body, improve flexibility, and optimize the flow of energy, and therefore the physical health in the body. But yoga asana also strengthens and focuses the mind, training our bodies and nervous systems to maintain a state of relaxation, even under challenging conditions. Yoga develops self-awareness of both body and mind, such that we are much better at feeling and recognizing what is going on inside of us. Even without knowing it, yoga asana trains us to breathe better (we’ll get to pranayama in the next blog), and to develop focus, concentration, and a moving meditation (we’ll get to dharana and dhyana eventually as well). Importantly, yoga asana doesn’t just mean learning or mastering fancy postures such as handstand or one legged balancing poses that look pretty. The word asana actually translates to “seat” referring to a seat one would take for meditation practice. So asana, originally, was designed to prepare us in body and mind, for meditation.
So for us as cancer survivors, you can see how important asana practice is in terms of the benefits that yoga brings. For me personally, yoga asana is key in keeping my radiated chest (and adjacent shoulder) supple, open, and pain-free. Yoga asana helped return range of motion and strength to that shoulder. But maybe more importantly, yoga asana empowers me, reminding me of my inner strength and resilience. It has trained my body and mind to be able to quickly return to relaxation after any type of stressor, be it mental or physical. For example, when fears of recurrence creep in, as they occasionally do, I am now more aware of them, and so able to take a few deep breaths, and redirect my energy and attention to a healthier thought pattern. I am also much more in tune with my body and mind, so that I can better recognize when I need to rest or regroup, rather than just pushing myself to the max all the time. Yoga asana helps me get out of my head, and into a place of mental stillness and peace. Yoga asana, for me, is my favorite type of meditation, a moving meditation. And even if I get stressed out and emotional about some life situation, I can do my asana practice, and know that I will feel better, more relaxed, and have more clarity afterward.
I could go on and on. But I’ll stop here and encourage you to think of all the ways your yoga asana practice has affected or helped you along your journey. Just keep practicing and know that those benefits will just continue to deepen the further you go on this beautiful inner journey called yoga.
Thanks so much for following along with me