Whatever happened to asana?

It’s in the back seat.

Bad timing: I’ve got a week with Dena Kingsberg coming up. Then of course there’s the event that spurred the creation of this blog, The Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. Then, a weekend with Kino McGregor. I should be nervous. Excited. Instead, I’m pretty mellow about it all.

I’ve had a quarter sabbatical from teaching writing, so I’ve had big plans to make it across Los Angeles to practice with Noah Williams. Not yet. I’ve been prioritizing my poetry, and been content with my home practice. What happened?


We saw a lot of temples in India. And by “saw” I mean went into the inner sanctums and had darshan–auspicious sight–with the murti, the main deities. We spent a lot of time in the temple towns, and all of our energy was focused on learning about the forms of Hindu worship and the philosophy of India, its religion and epistemology.

Also, we practiced Ashtanga.

Now, we practiced in some pretty fantastic locations: Facing the Bay of Bengal, in the shadow of Arunachala, within view of gopurum (temple towers) to Siva, Vishnu, Ganesha. Morning practice with Kate O’Donnell was indeed amazing. Kate’s first kapotasana adjustment changed the way I do the pose, and it gave me hope where before there was none (yes, it was that good). On New Year’s Day, Steve and I did a mala–108 sun salutes. It was beautiful. But there were days when there was no place to practice as a group, so we practiced pranayama in the room; or mornings when we were leaving too early to practice. This was an acceptable situation. I wasn’t in India to study yoga. I was there to see India.

But what I learned in seeing India was the real role of asana practice in yoga–at least for me. It’s been a tectonic shift.

Don’t get me wrong. Practice is still important, still a key part of my life. It still happens every day except Saturdays and Moondays, and we dedicate space to it in our home. Yesterday we drove two hundred miles round trip to Tim Miller’s for his Led First Series, and it was amazing, as usual. But somehow asana has faded in importance in my awarenss of yoga, and what the word yoga means.

Kate said that practice in India is different, practicing where, as she put it, “the veil is thinner” makes things possible that were not possible before. This was true. But for me, the biggest result of the thinner veil was the understanding that asana is a tool. And like any tool, it’s only as good as what I use it for.

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

6 thoughts on “Whatever happened to asana?”

  1. Nice to hear about this evolution for you…

    It brings to mind a quote someone pulled out of my workshop this past weekend, and posted to Facebook:

    “It’s not about doing the yoga poses. It’s about undoing what’s in the way of the poses.”

    “Detailed description of the phases of jnana ashtanga (the eightfold path of knowledge) such as yama and niyama is beyond the scope of this small work. Exhalation in this path means giving up the two aspects of name and form, of body and world. Inhalation is taking in (grasping) the sat (being), chit (consciousness), ananda (bliss) aspects pervading names and forms. Retention of breath is retaining them, assimilating what has been taken in. pratyahara is being ever on the vigil that the rejected names and forms do not intrude again into the mind. Dharana is retaining the mind in the heart, so that it does not wander, by holding firm to the concept already grasped, that is: ‘I am the sat chit ananda Atman’ (the Self which is Being – Consciousness – Bliss). Dhyana (meditation) is steady abidance as aham swarupa (in one’s true form) which is experienced as ‘I,I’ of its own accord, just as when enquiring, ‘Who am I? , by stilling the corpse of this body of five sheaths. For this kind of breath control there is no need of such regulations as asanas (postures) etc. One may practice it in any place or time. The primary aim is to fix the mind in the heart at the feet of the Lord shinging as the Self and never to forget Him. Forgetfulness of the Self is the source of all misery. The elders say that such forgetfulness is death to the aspirant after Liberation. It may be asked if the regular breath control of Rajayoga (a yoga path) is unnecessary. To this we reply: it is useful, but its value lasts only as long as one is practicing it, whereas the breath-control of the eightfold path of knowledge is a permanent help. The aim of both kinds of breath control or Self-enquiry regular yogic breath control remains necessary; further than that there is no need for it. The kevala kumbhaka type of breath-control is of such nature that the breathing subsides in the Heart even without control of inhalation and exhalation. One may practise the methods of either manyoga or jnana (knowledge) as one will.
    All the scriptures aim at control of the mind, since destruction of the mind is moksha or Liberation. Yoga is control of the breath, while the method of jnana or Knowledge is to see everything as a form of truth or as Brahman the One and Indivisible. It depends on a persons latent tendencies which of these two paths will appeal to him. The path of knowledge is taming an unruly bull by showing it a bundle of grass, that of yoga is like taming it by beating and yoking it. So say those who know. Fully competent persons reach the Goal by controlling the mind, in the truth of Vedanta, knowing the certainty of the Self, and seeing the Self and everything as Brahman. Those who are less qualified fix the mind in the heart by means of breath-control and prolonged meditation on the self. Those who are still less qualified reach higher stages by methods such as breath-control. Bearing this in mind, the yoga of the control of the mind is classified as the eightfold path of Knowledge and of yoga. It is enough if breath –control is practiced till kevala kumbhaka is achieved. Direct experience of Samadhi can also be attained by devotion (bhakti) in the form of constant meditation (dhyana). Kevala kumbhaka with Self-enquiry, even without control of inhalation and exhalation is an aid to this. If that becomes natural to one, it can be practiced at all times except during worldly activity and there is no need to seek a special place for it. Whatever a person finds suitable may be practised. If the mind gradually subsides, it does not matter if other things come and go. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says that the devotee is higher than the yogi and that means to Liberation is bhakti (devotion) in the form of inherence in the Self, whis is one’s own Reality. Theefore if, somehow or other, we get the courage to rest the mind perpetually in Him, why worry about other things?” ~ The Collected Works Of Ramana Maharshi

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