Why my asana practice is ‘very good’

As we continue to sort out our yatra experience and what it means for us, including on our mats, I want to take a second to put forth one fairly superficial lesson (although it might not be) and one far more meaningful one (that might not be).

First off, the fairly superficial one: After having stood in crowds with devoted Hindus to take darshan and having talked more in depth with real, honest-to-Ganesha swamis, I feel it necessary to make a clear distinction between an asana and a yoga practice.

An asana practice can be a yoga practice; but it also can be just (I use the word somewhat advisedly) about exercise. A yoga practice involves something more, some seeking, some advancement; you know, trying to get to what yoga means. It also can be from the other seven limbs of Patanjali yoga or another of the paths: karma, jhana, etc. Puja, temple visits, satsang all can be a health part of a yoga practice.

So I’m probably going to be careful to make talk of asana distinct from yoga, when needed.

At one level, that’s pretty superficial, I suppose. But more substantially, for me, it reflects a better understanding of what my asana practice is, where it fits into my life and just how much I can get out of it. (“Practice, and all is coming,” yes, but I’m not sure that practice alone will get me there. But the practice makes the other activities I need accesible. That’s far clearer to me now.)

Tim Miller doing his best to make Steve's down dog part of the canine species.
Tim Miller doing his best to make Steve’s down dog part of the canine species.

Now, the more meaningful lesson: I was told by someone far smarter and closer than I to enlightenment — Robert Moses, in fact — that my asana practice, the one I so happily and consistently disparage, “is very good.”

He said that pretty early in our trip. And no, it wasn’t because my hamstrings suddenly became like jelly or my breath like the bellows of a forge.

“It’s very good because you’re doing it,” he said.

For whatever reason — the setting, his leadership of our trip, those decades as a swami he has under his belt (OK, he wore a doti during the trip, so there was no belt) — that simple statement struck and stuck.

I’m still processing it: what does that mean about my painful relationship with even the “easiest” part of the practice; what is the practice, in fact; and plenty of other thoughts.

It’s not about to make me like Ashtanga, I don’t think, but it does put a different perspective (maybe happier or lighter or something) on approaching the mat.

And we’ll see what that does to everything.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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