The third limb, asana, is the practice of body poses. Some instructors refer to the asana as the “least important part of the practice.” Though the postures themselves are a fraction of the journey towards mind-body-spirit union, perhaps dismissing asanas as “least important” is a way of clinging to identifications.
The front door is not your home; it is only a fraction of your home. When you go into your home, you don’t necessarily need to use a door. You could use a window, or scale a ladder and climb down the chimney, or use a wrecking ball to knock down part of a wall. Using a door is just the safer, easier way to access your home. Respect the doorway: it fulfills a valuable role in your life. So too does the asana give you a simpler, easier way of achieving stillness and harmony.
The Sanskrit word asana means “staying” or “abiding.” In The Karate Kid, Mr. Han points out, “Staying still and doing nothing are two very different things.” Staying in a posture is challenging in a world that moves as quickly as ours. Building physical strength is a process of creating minute tears in muscles so they can rebuild themselves and become stronger. Building mental focus is a process of turning away from outside demands and distractions that clamor for your attention. By holding a pose, you exercise mental strength, committing yourself to the practice instead of the distractions. This builds physical strength and flexibility. When the body is calm, the mind becomes calm. When the body is healthy, the mind has fewer distractions from stress or pain.
Practicing asanas can help you become more grounded in your body and create a healthier relationship with it. Mixed messages besiege us all day. You need to look young and attractive. Appearances are superficial. Only thin people are successful and happy. Food will make you happy. Buying this product will make you beautiful forever. Reconnecting with our body makes it easier to understand what is good for it.
Most of us are sedentary beings who sit in cars or behind desks, yet for most of the history we know, humans were very active. Our bodies weren’t designed to sit all day. Doing so is stressful. “I think when you challenge yourself enough,” Corey says, “your body starts to fatigue, then your mind starts to fatigue—and that’s when your mind starts to open. It is no different than when people would go on a pilgrimage or when they built temples on sides of the mountains. They’d go through a physical purification to get to a more spiritual place. When you physically go through a purification, that’s what brings you to a place where you’re more open.” Challenging the body is a way of liberating the mind.
B.K.S. Iyengar says, “The needs of the body are the needs of the divine spirit which lives through the body. The yogi does not look heaven-ward to find God, for he knows that He is within.” Abiding in a pose is a way of finding the most harmonious way to abide in the body. The mindful asana practice is a meaningful aspect of achieving mind-body-spirit union.