Mindfulness, Yama and Asana
by Tejo Anand Wu
Most people come to yoga class for asana. They want to be in good shape. Gradually, some of them find that yoga is not only yogasana but also the control of mind. The advanced practitioner may wonder who is the boss of mind. This question leads him to search for the soul and Self.
Asana should be a steady and comfortable posture.* Asana is the third Anga(limb) of Raja yoga. If you perform a posture that is uncomfortable,then you may feel pain and the mind is disturbed. One can not reach the perfect asana without control of the mind’s modifications. So what do you think about asana-practice? How do you perform asana? Do you pay attention to your posture? Are you in a hurry to move from posture to posture?
We practice asana in classroom or at our private place. It is not easy to observe our state of body and mind since we are occupied with teacher’s instructions in yoga class. We learn how to perform asanas in class, but the best way to experience asana is still in our private practice.
Each asana has common rules and techniques which are necessary and important, but the essence and benefits of asana is depend on our own experience. That means we do our personal asana. Asana should be connected with our inner mind.
Use mindfulness to improve asana’s quality
Here comes the question: how to practice asana? The quality of asana depends on our state of mind. Good quality of asana brings us many benefits. Healthy and righteous mind drive asana into a positive way. We may use the mindfulness skill to attune our asana practice.
Mindfulness in Sanskrit is smriti and in Pali word is Sati. It can be translated as remembering. Mindfulness is an attention to the present, which means you have to retreat from the wandering mind. Mind should be the boss of our physical body, but we often become the captive of our Indriyas (senses).
Aware at present, observe breath and asana
Mindfulness is at present and keep this awareness all the time. When doing asana, one observes how body’s movement interweaves with breath. One observes how the muscles are stretching and contracting with bones and joints moving. Mindfulness on asana helps you completely to aware your body, that is, you understand how you sit, stand, lie down, bend and stretch.
Buddha teach the Anapanasati (awareness of breathing ) to observe the natural breathing and extending the awareness to the whole body and the mind-changing. We can use this skill to aware our body’s movement and posture. Aware the breath. Observe how the breath in and out,shallow or deep, rough or smooth. Use the breath to control asana. For example, you may inhale with extending your spine and elongating the space between vertebrae; exhale with twisting and side-bending to open up the blocking energy.
Try to integrate your asana and breath, then immerse yourself only at the present. In the beginning, observe only one spot of your body, then extending to whole body and see how different parts of your body work together. No matter how you like or dislike your asana, just observe. Do not attach these feeling because they are the modifications of your mind, your habitude and tendency.
Yama as the foundation of asana
Mindfulness also means righteous attitude and perception. Hatha Yoga deals with the physical yoga. Raja Yoga is a mental yoga. Both of them cannot be separated. There are eight steps on the path of Raja Yoga(Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi). They should be practiced in order. If you want to experience the true essence of yoga from asana’s practice, you should not abandon the foundation of the Raja Yoga.
Yama, the first limb of Raja Yoga, could be used as your core value of mindfulness. Yama is the practice of Ahimsa (abstinence from injury), Satya (truthness), Asteya (abstinence from theft), Brahmacharya (continence) and Aparigraha (being free from covetousness). Yamas are not only the moral codes connecting you and the outside world, but also the compassion-cultivation of your inner mind.
As for Ahimsa, you should not force your body to perform asana beyond your capabilities. Do not impose the stress that causes injury to your body. There are always alternative ways to practice asana.
The main purpose of asana is to let you know your body and mindset rather than to do a standard posture illustrated by textbook. You have to observe and feel the moment that you are doing asana. Do not judge your body but to listen to your body.
Learning how to aware at present is the key point. Every moment of your body movement transmits message. If there is uncomfortable or painful arising, do not neglect the sign. Adjust your posture or use props to prevent from injury.
Satya is being truthful to your heart. You practice asana for yourself rather than for others. You need to be honest with your practice without egotistic expectations. Asana is the dialogue between body and mind. Accept your body and find out why your body is intense, loose, stiff or flexible. Do not become impatient or get anger when you can’t do asana properly.
Like and dislike will be your obstacles to yoga practice. You are what your mind make you are. Physical body reflects our habitual tendencies. Practice asana with Satya prevents you from being deceived by your mind’s modifications.
Asteya is non-stealing. Asana is not for performance or competition. We shouldn’t neither judge others nor imitate others. If your body is not ready to do the advanced asanas, then you should practice from the basic asanas. You can steal some asana skills from textbooks, but your body may not comply with your book-knowledge about asana.
Brahmacharya for asana is to preserve the Prana (energy) for practice. Observe the energy flowing when you practice asana. Brahmacharya is about control of desire and purification of Nadi. Control your energy without leaking out will help you master asana practice. Mulabandha, Uddiyanabandha and Jalandharabandha can be practiced with asana only under the qualified teacher’s instructions. These energy lock skills make your asana steady and elevate the quality of asana.
Aparigraha is about non-possessiveness. You shouldn’t attach to your feeling such as like or dislike, fear or anger, resistance or surrender when practicing. Sometimes you make a progress, sometimes you are frustrated by failure. These are all the process of yogaasana. Do not attach with them and let them go.
You may have positive expectations but not expect the results of your actions. Doing asana at present means there is no before and after. That is also the spirit of Aparigraha.
Deepen your yoga journey by mindfulness and asana
Mindfulness means to live at present. Everything is impermanent by nature including body and mind. The ultimate truth is permanent residing at the present. Observing your asana at every moment brings concentration. This insightful observation helps you to find your potential power.
Mindfulness is the starting point to liberate your mind. Since our suffering comes from our perception, we need to have righteous attitude and perception. It is better to aware that sometimes asana practice becomes an obstacle to liberation because of our identification and attachment to ego.
Keep in mind the first limb of Raja Yoga, Yama will protect and elevate your asana practice. Mindfulness based on Yama will deepen your yoga journey. Mindfulness can be a tool for our Sadhana on the path of yoga. Give mindfulness as your suggestions to your asana practice, then your body and mind will become steady and pure.
* Patanjali Yoga Sutra II-46
Photo at the top: by samuiblue
About Tejo Anand Wu:
Tejo Anand Wu teaches yoga in Taipei, Taiwan. He is a yoga teacher certificated by the Sri Divya Jivan Sanskrutik Sangh Sivananda Ashram, RYT 200,300 Hrs of Yoga Alliance, and the Paramanand Institute of Yoga Sciences & Research. He is also the current commissioner in Yoga Association of Taiwan Sports Federation. Contact with Tejo: [email protected]