By Jayanthi Gopalakrishnan
Instructor, Yoga from the Heart
What, really, is a yoga practice? Is it just asana, or is there more to it?
When you focus on an asana, or purely physical practice, it is easy to strip off all the other seven limbs that define yoga. But when you’re conscious that asana is only one of the limbs of yoga, it’s likely that you’ll be motivated to discover what yoga can truly do for you: allow you to become one with your inner soul.
For me, a good starting point was to observe my thoughts, feelings, and emotions while performing asana. Did I feel frustrated if I couldn’t touch my toes when doing forward bends? While doing Savasana, did I distract myself by thinking about going out with friends? Once I became aware of these thought processes, I realized where my weaknesses were. We all have weaknesses, and they’re not necessarily bad. They just need to be polished so that our hearts can shine like beautiful gems.
Asana is a tool to dig deeply, through the various layers of our body, and connect with our soul. Performing asanas as if they are just a form of exercise means you’re performing what B.K.S Iyengar refers to as bhogasana—bogus asana. When you can find stillness and comfort, you perfect an asana, performing it with precision. Only then can you move on to the next limb of yoga: pranayama.
Practicing yoga is a lifetime journey, which takes commitment and dedication. Its effects are subtle, and they often take place without you realizing it. There’s no doubt that you’ll “feel good” or feel stronger after regularly practicing asana. But if you perform asanas with the precision that they require, changes will take place externally and internally. Because the changes are subtle, they may go unnoticed. But one day it’ll hit you.
That’s what happened to me. I was faced with an uncomfortable situation, and realized that I reacted in a different way than I would have, in the past. Instead of becoming flustered and angry, I internalized the situation by sitting silently for a while, giving my emotions a chance to fizzle. Instead of becoming defensive, I made my point clear, and I was authoritative, yet compassionate. There was no room for anyone to start an argument.
I firmly believe that my commitment to my yoga practice had something to do with the difference in the way I reacted to this particular situation. I have become more confident, I have a clear vision, and I carry myself in a calm and peaceful way. What is interesting is how compassion can have a significant impact on everyone around you. Yoga helps me to maintain balance, it brings me peace, promotes positive energy and lets me have a blissful life.
Had I known that yoga does all this, I would have paid more attention to some of the ancient yogic texts early on, such as the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Today, readings from these texts give me better insight into what yoga means.
What does yoga mean to you?
Jayanthi Gopalakrishnan is an instructor at Yoga from the Heart. She has been practicing yoga since 2004.