Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:46- Asana is a steady, comfortable seat
Defining the Sutra
An asana is steady and comfortable. If our poses are not steady and comfortable, they are not true Yoga asanas. A Yoga asana is a pose used for attaining the state of Yoga. The state of Yoga is supreme internal steadiness. The mind does not fluctuate and we completely understand who we are.
The most effective why to use our seat, to focus on Yoga, is for it to be steady and comfortable. Essentially, Yoga poses are an attempt to make our bodies healthy enough to take a steady seat.
Modern Day Application
Since a Yogi or self realized person is always steady, any seat they take is an asana. No matter what is going on in the Yogi’s life, they never lose connection with who they are. Even if the body is not comfortable, they don’t lose their equanimous nature. This is not the case for most of us. If our bodies are weak, sick, imbalanced, toxic, and injured, we loose our steadiness. We can’t focus on anything else except what is going on in our bodies.
Asana has to be perfected before the practitioner embarks on the last 4 limbs of Yoga. We did Nadi Shodhana in Guided class today before Utplutihi. I was totally into at first. Then I started thinking, “Yay. I can hold lotus for a long time. I am awesome.” When we started the round on the opposite side, I started thinking, “my legs are going to sleep. When are we going to be done with this? How many rounds is she going to do? ” If I can’t do it for two minutes in a Yoga class, I definitely cannot maintain mental steadiness when my first world problems start coming at me off the mat. Heaven forbid, I actually have a real issue in my life.
I was only able to stay steady for about the first 30 seconds of Nadi Shodhana. I know. Sad. This makes total sense because that is about as long as I hold it during my physical Yoga practice. I have heard a few estimates as to what traditional Yogi’s feel is a long enough time to ascertain the fact that one is comfortable and steady in a pose. Anywhere from 30 minutes to about 2 hours. LOL. I know. Crazy, but think about it. For most situations in our lives, our major emotional upheavals calm down within that time period. We stew for about 30 minutes to an hour, go do something, then we start retelling the story in our heads and then we start to stew round two. If we were able to stay steady long enough to go from stew mode to chill mode, our lives would be so different. Think about all the impulsive things you have done in your life because you acted while in stew mode. I would say about 90% of the stupid, idiotic decisions I have made in my life happened in stew mode.
We don’t need every pose in the book to be steady and comfortable. It is enough to find it in one.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”- Bruce Lee
The Yogi who has found steadiness and comfort in one pose and uses it to find awakening is a “bad mamma jamma”. The person who can find happiness doing just Sun Salutes is way clearer than someone who needs 6 different series and a one armed handstand to do it. I will probably need another series to do it so I am not hating. Just saying.
Why It is Important
How often do you try to increase difficulty in a pose that is already easy for you? For instance, your chin is on your shin, your back is long and your wrists are bound in Paschimottanasana but yet you lift your ankles off the ground so you can feel something?
How often have you gotten “bored” with your practice?
How often have you needed to do something else so that you can be challenged.
This is cool. Don’t get me wrong. I like a good challenge. It is not the point though.
When the pose gets comfortable, and we have found an “asana”, we have an amazing opportunity to focus our attention on our internal state. Patanjali talks more about this in the next few verses which we will get into in the next few installments.
A few good questions to ask when you get the itch to make it harder is, “Why?” “Is this added difficulty taking me away or towards a state of Yoga?
This is different from having imbalances in your body and mind that can only be addressed through a pose or practice that goes deeper. For instance, sometimes my back gets wonky and Upward Facing Dog doesn’t cut it. I need a bigger back bend. It is not until Upward Bow, aka Wheel, that my back starts to feel balanced. For some people 10 minutes of meditation in the morning doesn’t cut it. They find what they need by doing a 10 day Vipassana meditation. Some people can eat just one potato chip. Some people have to leave the bag at the store. The difficulty is increased because the depth will bring the needed steadiness.
Increasing difficulty because we enjoy it is a beautiful thing. However, it can become a mechanism to run away from doing the inner work. As the difficulty is increased, instead of stillness, the mind has something else to obsess over. Only we can answer the why and it can only be delved into if we ask.
I asked myself this when I went to Mysore. At home, I was a third series practitioner. I had plenty of crazy stupid poses to keep my mind busy. I am probably only half way decent at about 1/3 of those poses. Lots of glorious opportunities for distraction….I mean…growth. In Mysore, Sharath kept me on Primary Series for two months. He gave me Pasasana, which was an act of torture ( just Pasasana?), at the end of month two.
I quickly whipped up this mental story of how It needed it to be harder and how this wasn’t fair. All the while, Sharath was smiling, joking and dropping me back without a care in the world. But me, I was serving up dukha, aka suffering. I would have a few practices where I put my focus on the breath and would find a beautiful clarity. I would proceed to mess it up by hitting the resume button on my dukha story.
Near the end, I asked myself, “why am I doing this?” Sharath made it pretty clear that he was not impressed by advanced poses and he wasn’t giving me any to do anyway. Without the pose acquisition, why was I practicing? Why was the clarity and ease of Primary Series not enough? What was I doing and was it Yoga? Primary Series was giving me many opportunities to find a steady and comfortable seat for internal work but I wasn’t taking it on. Why?
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.