Foundations of Yoga, and, the Spiritual Life – Part Three
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras outline eight steps which collectively foster spiritual illumination or the state of divine union otherwise known as Yoga. Having addressed the first two steps in preceding posts, I turn to the third one which is simply called ‘Asana.’ It does not imply various hatha yoga postures commonly deemed “Yoga” these days but, rather, references what hatha yoga was meant to cultivate: the capacity to sit completely immobile in a comfortable, straight-backed but relaxed position for 3 hours.
This might seem strange, especially when so many haven’t the foggiest idea what yoga is actually about. The concept of postures and flexibility exercises practiced to enhance psychological and physical functioning is far too shallow. The body is a vessel for the Spirit that dwells within it. Those who focus on physical practices without broader understanding only reinforce gross identification and fail to use the body for its greater purpose, going beyond the body. Hatha yoga was formulated to create a healthy bio-energetic system that allowed for the unimpeded flow of subtle energy and consciousness towards realization of one’s essence of being or soul. Physical practices were never meant to be ends unto themselves but, instead, to prepare the body/mind for knowledge revealed solely by meditatively-acquired direct intuitive perception.
To achieve Asana requires unhindered withdrawal of life force from the body plus fully focused attention. The mind must be emptied of restless conflicts and the body freed from inharmonious energy patterns or dis-ease. This attainment is far from simple since we automatically engage in worldly affairs via reactive, like-and-dislike ways. Such patterns override receptive stillness and compromise perception of subtle realities. They must be neutralized by gaining awareness of and becoming anchored in soul-based insights that reveal truths about ourselves and the world. When we experience our essence as Spirit we simultaneously recognize that only Spirit can provide the lasting happiness everyone seeks. This is an incremental process that builds upon itself so must be cultivated with patience.
Everyone who successfully concludes a quality session of hatha yoga will feel a body/mind ease arising from such practice. Such is the basis for Asana and foundation of right posture that leads to deep meditation. This is when the ‘party’ just begins.