Warning : This Blog Entry is Highly Controversial.

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
write this).

Sherry Roberts, author of “ Patanjali and his eightfold path of yoga”
explains, ”
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
being.

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

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October 22, 2011 - 1:03 am Sonyata - In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali talks about God, by the name Ishvara or others. "Parushu" is the Divine Perceiver, and lesser "parushu" is our true self. All of our "parushus" come together in "Parushu". There are concepts such as Brahmacharya, which may be translated as practicing celibacy, monk like behavior, or more liberally as in practicing moderation. There are many in our society who do not necessarily believe in the practice of Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion to the Divine) or perhaps skip the verses on Samadhi about a relationship with God. So be it. There are some dudes who only come to yoga classes because there are hot chicks there:) I have just completed my tenth class with a new student, and in ten two hour classes took her through the entire yoga sutra. It was a very moderate translation by T.K.V. Desikachar, and each class consisted of minutes of philosophy (Yoga Sutra and asana concepts) and 90 minutes of asana. She is so in love with yoga, and I am almost ready to turn her to on the studios around town. Unfortunately, many yogis and yoginis may practice for years without ever looking at the Yoga Sutra, which is the core text of yoga. "The path of yoga is through meditation. Everything else is a circus." However, it's a great circus! While asana is one of the lesser limbs of yoga, it is an essential ingredient for total transformation of the mind, body, and spirit. Asana is the hamster wheel for the monkey mind, but the true power of yoga is the mind and the spirit. Being an It's Yoga Ashtanga instructor, we do not force people to buy into the dogma of the religions, or particular diety worship. We try to keep it open to all practitioners. To each their own. But those who seek the Yoga Sutra and the understanding of the spirit will grow more quickly, and come into greater clarity. Let people take what they want from it. Namaste.

September 13, 2011 - 4:00 am Matt - The eight limbs are like a pizza; all the ingredients come together to make a slice of deliciousness. Sure, you can have extra pepperoni (asanas) but all the ingredients are there either way, sometimes you don't give any though to the extras. BKS Iyengar said it best; "Yoga liberates you. When you practice yoga, your mind becomes unfettered and free. The impact of yoga is never purely physical. Asanas, if correctly practiced, bridge the divide between the physical and the mental spheres. Yoga stems the feelings of pain, fatigue, doubt, confusion, indifference, laziness, self-delusion, and despair that assail us from time to time. The yogic mind simply refuses to accept such negative emotions and seeks to overcome these turbulent currents on the voyage to the total liberation of the self. Once we become sincere practitioners of yoga, we cease to be tormented by these unhappy and discouraging states of mind. Yoga illuminates your life. If you practice sincerely, with seriousness and honestly, its light will spread to all aspects of your life. Regular practice will bring you to look at yourself and your goals in a new light. It will help remove the obstacles to good health and stable emotions. In this way, yoga will help you achieve emancipation and self-realization, which is the ultimate goal of every person's life."

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