I have a friend who practices yoga purely for the physical benefits. He
is not interested in acknowledging the other limbs–he is smitten with
asana. For him, it’s no different than going to the gym. He likes to
sweat, stretch, build muscle and move around. He’s confessed that he
doesn’t recognize that any of the other benefits of the practice have
followed him from his mat, out into the world. And for the longest time,
I judged him for this. I saw him as a “lesser yogi” and would argue over
and over– you cannot isolate asana from the other limbs, you cannot claim
that they are not all connected. I thought this was as ridiculous as
trying to deny the existence of cell phones in a crowded public space.
(By the way, he’s so resolute in his stance, that he gave me permission to
Sherry Roberts, author of “ Patanjali and his eightfold path of yoga”
The Yoga Sutra is considered the fundamental text on the system of yoga,
and yet you won’t find the description of a single posture or asana in it.
This is a guide for living the right life. Essentially, Patanjali says,
you can’t practice asanas in yoga class, feel the stretch, and then go
home to play with your kids, cook a meal, yell at your employees, and
cheat on your taxes. There is more to yoga than that — yoga can help you
cultivate body, mind, and spiritual awareness. ”
So, how does asana connect to the deeper levels and gifts of the practice
and to the other limbs ?
I’ve been experiencing the “deeper levels of my practice” since day one. I
am thankful for the numerous gifts my yoga practice has graced my everyday
life with–patience, compassion, confidence, and awareness of the
difference between responding vs. reacting. I am also deeply grateful for
the physical practice. It has seen me through a difficult pregnancy, even
more challenging recovery, a serious life altering bleeding disorder and
the cumulative stress that daily living creates. I am more flexible,
have near perfect blood pressure, stronger muscles and greater awareness
of “how my body feels”. I too love asana. So much, that at times, I
secretly want to agree with my friend. It’s true, I have had practices
where the only benefits I can directly see that day, are all physical.
But, then I’ll have a day where I come home after practice and notice how
much more patience I have for my family, or even for myself as a human
And as a human being, I know I am wrong in judging my friend for his
viewpoint. It is not my place to dictate to others what yoga should, or
should not be. I can only share my experiences and understanding.
As for my friend, although we share a love for yoga, we are not on the
same journey. We may be in the same room, on the same colored mats, but
having radically different experiences in the same pose. And that’s the
multidimensional miracle of the practice, as well as one of it’s greatest
gifts. I like to think of yoga as a mosaic, the millions of people who
practice it are the individual pieces of glass. Each a unique shape, each
an unrepeatable shade of their own favorite color.
What do you think ? Can yoga be a purely physical practice ?
~Megan Merchant, RYT-200, M.F.A