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The Eight Limbs of Yoga - Asana

Welcome Friends to this week’s discussion on the guiding principles of the science of Yoga - the Eight Limbs.


So far, we have discussed the attitudes and practises that the aspiring Yogi examines and adopts on their path; attitudes and practises that bring them into harmony with their external environment and those that are practised towards themselves as an individual and towards the cultivation of their inner landscape.


The path of yoga is one of transformative self-understanding and of liberation from conditioned ideas about who are - it is the journey one makes through oneself towards oneself - towards the experience of union


The Eight Limbs are viewed as a clear set of guiding principles and practices that enable the Yogi to lead a disciplined and purposeful life.


We acknowledge here once again that the Eight Limbs are not an absolute, dogmatic set of rules to follow without question; there is a responsibility upon the Yogi to examine and understand how these guiding principles can be applied to their own lives and to their individual experience - a Yogi is always aware that the individual journey is as unique as the practitioner themselves.


Asana:


The third of the Eight Limbs is known as ‘Asana’, the literal translation of which is ‘sitting down’, whilst the modern use of the word relates to the many different physical postures that are most commonly associated with the practice of yoga. 


The practice of Asana as one of the Eight Limbs is a means of training the body to be still, steady and strong in preparation for extended periods of meditation. Asana was, and still is, used as a method of physical discipline in order to grow the capacity of a healthy body, removing aches, pains and, according to some scientific studies, helping with various physical ailments that would otherwise interrupt the meditative practice of the yogi.


The modern practice of Asana is one of the holding of the body in specific postures and placements in order to promote strength, flexibility, awareness and concentration. Different breathing patterns and techniques are also combined with Asana practice, leading to a fully immersive physical practice of attentiveness and awareness.


In the modern world there are many different traditions and styles of Asana practice, all originating from older traditions. Yoga is a living, ever-evolving tradition and, since gaining worldwide exposure in the mid-18th century, literally thousands of asanas have been developed by teachers and practitioners alike.


Originally, in ancient times, very few asanas were recorded and, of the few that were, the vast majority explained various seated postures for meditative practice alone. In the 18th century, Indian society was transformed at the end of the British occupation and a doctrine of ‘physical culture’ was introduced. A revival of the practises and development of Asana and yoga in general began, coupled with a growing interest in Indian culture, history and spirituality by the West. Since then, the library of asanas has grown exponentially, beginning from a traditional number of 84 to more than 3,000 in our modern age.


Asana practice is the most immediately recognisable of the Eight Limbs of Yoga; we will all have seen photos and images of the fantastical shapes within which practitioners appear to bend and twist their bodies beyond what seems human. These images have the effect of being either inspiring or completely off putting to people; certainly, one of the most common things I hear from people when I say that I teach yoga is “I’d love to do yoga, but I am not flexible enough”.


Asana practice is never meant to be complicated and one does not need any degree of flexibility to begin a practice. Consistent effort, a little discipline towards the practice and an awareness of the body will see extraordinary change occur in terms of flexibility and strength in a short space of time.


Whether one’s practice develops towards the most fantastical postures, or whether it remains steady and consistent because it feels good to simply move and stretch is equally perfect when practising Asana. There are many different styles to choose from, from traditional Hatha Yoga (my own particular discipline), to the fast-paced, flowing style of Vinyasa, to the relaxed and slow Restorative Yoga which is enjoyed by millions.


Within the context of the Eight Limbs, Asana is there for one single reason - to make the body stronger, healthier and more relaxed. When the yogi has a healthy body, they will have a healthy life and one that fully supports the practises of the other seven Limbs.


Matt ~ The Bearded Naked Yogi


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