More than Asana

What is yoga? Yoga can mean many things to many different people. You may be thinking yoga is comprised of poses, some type of breath work, flexibility, balance etc. Well, you aren’t wrong, but you aren’t getting the whole picture either. The poses (asanas) and the breath work (pranayama) are considered external yoga (bahi rang), only two of the eight limbs of Raja yoga. The most common practice in the western world is focused on asana, the physical aspect of yoga that builds flexibility, balance, strength, stamina etc. And yes, this is a wonderful aspect of the practice that draws in many people, but then they often stop and do not bother to dig deeper into the practice and expand upon it. They are focused on external yoga or wish to gain merely the benefits of the asanas. Although it is good to be healthy and fit, yoga can teach you so much more than just how to do a headstand.
So, back to the original question, what is yoga? There are various definitions for yoga however, according the Yoga Sutras by Pantajali;
yoga is the cessation of the movements of the mind”, and
“yoga is discipline”.
What do these descriptions mean to you? While studying at Paramanand Ashram (www.paramyoga.org), we expanded upon these topics and ancient knowledge in order to learn to apply them in our lives.
Yoga Sutras talks about the Eight limbs of Yoga, also known as Raja Yoga. During my studies here, we closely examined and practiced these eight limbs to the best of our ability. The first 4 limbs of yoga are considered External Yoga(Bahiranga Yoga):
Yama,
Niyama,
Asana,
and Pranayama.
The last 4 are considered Internal Yoga (Antranga):
Pratyahara,
Dharna,
Dhyana
and Samadhi.

1. Yama
Yoga describes a path toward respect for others and consists of 5 steps, the first being Non-Violence (Ahimsa). I believe that we can all agree that non-violence is a sound principle. Patanjali tells us that this happens not only physically, but mentally and through speech. However, non-violence does not just mean violence towards others, but oneself through thoughts. We spend a fair amount of time here at Paramanand Ashram considering how we may harm others- not just fellow humans but all beings and also how we harm ourselves. The rest are as follows: Truthfulness (Satya), Not stealing (Asteya), Non-Covetousness (Aparigraha) and Acting with an Awareness of Higher Ideals (Brahma-charya).
2. Niyama also describes a path but it focuses on how to respect ourselves. The first step is Inner and Outer Purity and Cleanliness or physical and mental Purity. When we learn to clean our minds of negative thoughts and attachment, bliss and concentration arise, along with mastery of the senses. This ultimately will give rise to self-realization. The rest are as follows: Contentment (Santosha) Self- Discipline (Tapas), Self-Reflection/learning (Svadhyaya), and Devotion to God (Ishvara-Pranidhana).
3. Asanas are a wonderful aspect of yoga and they hold many health benefits for those that practice them, but interestingly enough, Patanjali never mentioned this. He described asana as a physical position that gives pleasure and stability and through asana; effortless relaxation and awareness are achieved. Upon entering the asana, focus your awareness on the area being stretched and breathe into the said area. This will cause you to go further into it and clear the mind. The pain will dissipate because the focus on the area will circulate the energy flowing in your body to that area and dissolve any pain or stiffness. Your mind and body becomes one and duality is dissolved and inner peace is achieved. But let’s talk about the health benefits of asana as well, since that is what most people are interested in. Not only do we study and recognize asana in such a way as described above, but we study the physical benefits of asanas too. Yoga Therapy Courses are offered here at Paramanand Ashram (www.paramyoga.org). This program utilizes asana and pranayama to help treat physical ailments such as Obesity, Diabetes, Hypertension, Depression etc.
4. Breathing is an autonomous function of the body. Pranayama is the conscious control over this unconscious function. Yoga masters, such as Pantanjali, discovered early on that the breath and the mind are intimately linked and by carefully regulating the breath; one can effectively calm the mind. Prana is the life force energy that flows through invisible energy channels known as nadi. There are 72,000 nadis in the body but the three main ones are Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. As one practices pranayama, the nadis become balanced.
5. Pratyahara is sense withdrawal and can be seen as the bridge between external and internal yoga, five through eight limbs are considered Internal Yoga. Patanjali describes it as returning back to the inside, the mind is withdrawn from the senses. Pratyahara occurs through practice of the first four limbs- the senses withdraw from external objects and chitta or the realization of one’s true self is unveiled.
6. Dharna or intense concentration or fixation on an object or place, can be achieved once the senses are transcended.
7. Dhyana is commonly known as mediation. Patanjali defined meditation as one notion flowing continuously with awareness, or more simply put, clearing the mind of all thoughts and just being an observer. This is a personal journey that takes much self-discipline and exploration. My own meditative journey has been transformative, and I have only been at Paramanand Ashram for one month, and still have one month left.
8. “When self identification is dissolved and only the subject matter of the orientation shines is insight (Patanjali Chapter 3, sutra 3).” This is called Samadhi, or pure ecstasy.
This happens with sustained meditation. This however is not the grand goal of yoga and your journey should not stop here, rather the grand goal is spiritual liberation.
I had known that Yoga is more than asana and pranayama, but did not really know what else it entailed and how to venture down that path. I learned more than I could have hoped for here at the ashram and I am so grateful. Ultimately, there is much more involved than what I described above, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that Yoga is a life long journey.

My name is Devanand (Dylan) and I am from _20161126_182511New York. I have been practicing yoga for seven years now. I just recently graduated with my Bachelors in Nutrition. Before I start down that career path, I knew I wanted to become a yoga teacher and so I decided to venture to India in order to fulfill my dream of becoming one and I couldn’t have picked a better place.

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