I woke up this morning feeling inspired while also feeling something brewing within me to share. As I quickly perused my two social media news feeds, I realized what I needed to share from my heart. First let me briefly explain what I noticed this morning; Pictures of extremely difficult asana poses, ads for upcoming Yoga “challenges” and Yoga “shred” events.
Before getting ahead of myself, and for those who do not know, I would like to explain the difference between Yoga and Asana.
Yoga has many meanings by definition, but the concept is to create union between the mind, body and spirit. Its an ancient practice of well over 2000 years practiced in Eastern civilization. Practicing yoga allows you to create and deepen a personal connection with yourself and also everything and everyone in the world, seeing all of us united as one being from our Higher Source/One Consciousness. Practicing yoga allows us to observe the present moment, every second at a time, noticing our physical body sensations, taking a step back inside ourselves and becoming the observer of the mind thinking the thoughts, and realizing we are not the thoughts themselves. It allows us to feel our limitlessness of our spirit and develop a stronger connection to our Creator. You can literally not move your body, but if you are aware of each breath, the present moment, not attaching emotion to the thoughts you’re thinking, and feeling the depths of your inner being, you ARE doing yoga.
Now onto asana. Asana is one of the “8 limbs of Yoga” as described by Patanjali who was a great Sage of ancient India, living roughly around the second century BCE. The 8 limbs of Yoga means that there are 8 “categories” to yoga. Thats right, asana (moving our body), is only 1/8 of yoga. Asana means “seat” or physical posture. People began practicing asana, or physical postures, for the purpose of being about to sit in a meditation for longer periods of time without getting uncomfortable.
So, is it Yoga or Asana you are practicing, or neither for that matter?
If you are a Yoga teacher teaching classes called “Yoga Challenge or Yoga Bootcamp” can you see the oxymoron in this?
Instead of calling it Yoga Challenge, would it be appropriate to call it “Asana Challenge”? Sure, if you are teaching asana for the purpose of meditation too.
But if Asana is for the purpose of being able to sit in meditation for longer periods of time then maybe that’s not a good name either if you are not teaching meditation.
Maybe calling it “Physical Challenge utilizing Asana Poses”… Heck I don’t know.
What I do know is that for those of us teachers who teach the spiritual aspects of Yoga, this differentiation is important. Why? Because our Western Civilization has bastardized Yoga into a workout for the body, with little focus on developing and strengthening the muscle so-to-speak of inner awareness.
Yes, I agree moving the body and creating a physical exercise is very important for the body, but why has the connection between the mind and spirit been pushed to the side?
Now more than ever its important for those of us teaching Yoga to honor what Yoga really means, and to share that with people. When we photograph ourselves doing these extreme pretzel poses, what is that teaching others about yoga? Its teaching them that they must be flexible to take a yoga class. What we should be emphasizing is flexibility in the mind.
For those of you reading this who are not Yoga teachers, let me be the one to tell you that practicing yoga has nothing to do about flexibility in your body. When you step onto a yoga mat, you step into an ancient practice of connecting to your spirit. You take that moment to say, whatever my body can do for me today, I am grateful. You ask your body, what would you like to tell me today? Our physical body stores energy created from emotions and can become blocked. Stepping on the mat gives you the opportunity to release those blocks if you choose. Stepping onto the mat creates an opportunity for you to ask yourself, “who am I?” on a deeper level. It gives you the opportunity to disconnect from all the thoughts your mind thinks, realizing we are not the thoughts themselves but the observer of the thoughts, like an audience member, instead of the star of the show of life.
I’ll end this with a question.
Are you practicing Yoga, asana, or just working out?