The third limb of Patanjali’s Royal Path, Asana (or yoga postures) is the most well-known limb of the system and is often misunderstood as the totality of yoga. The origin of these postures is layered throughout the past few millennia, but essentially the goal of asana is to prepare your body to rest comfortably in meditation. We work out tension, keep our bodies healthy and vital, and move energy, all to help experience deeper states of awareness. It’s important to mention that standing on your head or doing something acrobatic is not the goal here and doesn’t get you any closer to enlightenment (or every Cirque Du Solei performer would be a sage). How you know you have “mastered” a pose is by finding Sukha and Sthira (calm and ease) in a pose. Our practice works us closer and closer to that deep sense of calm and ease, both in our postures and in our lives. Let's explore three different ways to experience Asana.
Vinyasa is the process of sequencing fluid movement with the breath. In this way, we can create vitality in our bodies and minds, sustain calm when faced with challenges, and remain present as we move from pose to pose. Vinyasa is often highlighted for its athletic components and sometimes sold for the physical benefits or challenges it provides. While those benefits are true, there are deeper lessons to be learned from this practice. Our lives are constantly changing and moving and we can sometimes lose our place and not remain present. This leads to accidents, injuries, insults, and so on. Vinyasa teaches us to move with life fluidly. To be able to flow from one moment to the next mindfully, carefully, and to be fully present. In this way, we can approach changes with that same Sukha and Sthira that a solid Asana practice promises.
Yin is a style of yoga that asks us to hold poses for longer periods of time in order to truly experience the essence of the pose. During that experience, you’ll notice where you feel challenged, how you feel about that challenge, and maybe a moment of surrender to being fully present with that experience. Unlike restorative yoga, yin postures are engaging and often challenging to hold. The body is still actively working in the pose as you deepen into the experience.
Where other styles of yoga asana ask us to actively push to achieve a pose, Restorative Yoga asks us to be as passive as possible while practicing. In fact, the less you “try” the further you get. This style is great for relaxation, but it also helps us to completely let go and surrender to the moment. While you are still aware of the present moment and your breath, all other effort in the body ceases.