Life has become body. We work, we enjoy, we earn, and we sleep and relax all for our body. Because of this body-centric life and the apparent involvement of body in asana, we often consider asana as an alternate form of exercise. In this article we have kept asana and exercise side-by-side to make you understand that asana is a feeling of inner comfort and not an outside accomplishment of body position. In other words life is not all body and asana is about forgetting the body.
Yogasanas are often mistaken as a form of exercise. They are not exercises, but techniques which place the physical body in positions that cultivate awareness, relaxation, concentration and meditation. They allow us to reach our higher nature through different postures. You must have noticed that when we are happy we sit in a certain posture; if depressed, we sit in another posture. The converse of this is the science of asana, where we consciously get our body into certain postures to elevate our awareness and relaxation.
We must also understand that unlike exercise, asana is always comfortable and blissful. Without comfort we cannot forget our body and without forgetting our body we cannot proceed for inner journey.
Some of the key differences between asana and exercise are:
|Non-Yogic Physical Practices
|Parasympathetic nervous system predominant
|Sympathetic nervous system predominant
|Static positions and slow relaxed movements
|Rapid forceful movements
|Normalization of muscle tone
|Increased muscle tone
|Low risk of injuring bones, joints, muscle and ligaments
|High risk of injury
|Low to very low caloric consumption
|High caloric consumption
|Effort is minimized, relaxed
|Effort is maximized
|Respiration and metabolic rate slows down
|The breath and metabolic rate speed up
|Energizing (breathing is natural or balanced)
|Fatiguing (breathing is taxed)
|Balanced activity of opposing muscle groups
|Unbalanced activity of opposing muscle groups
|Non-competitive, process-oriented and more of feeling part
|Competitive, goal oriented and more of doing part
|Limitless possibilities for growth in internally related self-awareness
|Scope of growth in externally related self-awareness
By looking at the two columns we can understand on which side there is more comfort, steadiness and relaxation. Thus, ‘steady and comfortable is asana’ (yogasutra 2.46). How do we achieve this steadiness and feeling of comfort? By witnessing our body. If you are lifting your hand in asana witness it, when you are dropping your hand witness it again. Similarly any body movement that is happening anywhere in the body i.e. arms, leg, spine, neck, wrist, fingers, abdomen, chest etc., make sure you are witnessing it. Witnessing implies that there is a conscious act.
Slowly you start feeling comfort within your body. There is deep rest, relaxation and ease surrounding your body and that is the stage of asana. Now you want to remain in that steadiness and ease. You don’t want to change or move your body and this is the beginning of yoga. The more you feel comfortable and stable in your body, the more you move closer to yourself.