The Third Limb of Yoga: Asanas
By Nirmala Raniga
“You don’t want to stand rigid like a tall oak that cracks and collapses in the storm. Instead, you want to be flexible, like a reed that bends with the storm and survives.”
— Dr. Deepak Chopra
When most people think of yoga, asanas or yoga poses come to mind. But, as we’re learning through our exploration of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, which are basic practices for wellbeing that help us live fuller, healthier lives.
In understanding the Eight Limbs of Yoga, we can appreciate that the Yoga asanas are only one component of Yoga. You see, yoga is more than just physical exercise- but a way of life that enhances body, mind and spiritual wellness.
Nonetheless, the Yoga asanas or poses are the third Limb of Yoga, which are equally as important to understand and practice alongside the other seven Limbs.
According to the 9th century Vedic Sage, Adi Shankara, human beings are multidimensional beings that live in a physical world. Humans have an extended body, personal body and energetic body. Even our present environment can be considered an extended body around us. As humans, we are always in dynamic exchange with the world around us.
For example, when we breathe, we expel carbon dioxide that is necessary for plants and trees to grow. In return, the plants and trees offer us the oxygen we require to be alive. We also experience a dynamic exchange with our environment when we eat the fruit and vegetables that have absorbed the vitamins and minerals from the soil. These nutrients provide the foundation for our cells, organs, bones, muscles and tissues to form our personal bodies. Now, our personal bodies may seem permanent and stagnant, but the truth is, they’re in a constant state of transformation. Our hair and nails grow, while our cells die and renew.
And finally, we’re energetic beings. We have the ability to recognize the difference between an individual who is living, and an individual who has passed on.
But the vital energy that animates our bodies is our breath, which provides life force that enlivens our personal forms. This expression is demonstrated and brought to our awareness through the Yoga asanas.
At the deepest level, practicing the asanas allows us to experience and explore how the mind-body integration works. Consciously moving our bodies through yoga poses help us to become aware of the energy that flows through our bodies. The asanas also promote a deeper sense of connection and appreciation to the environment around us. In fact, Ancient Yogic sages often witnessed the blossoming of flowers, animals at play, birds in the air, and the sturdiness of trees and plants as Yoga poses that mimicked these aspects of nature.
While there are thousands of Yoga poses, we only need to practice a few of them in order to reap the mind-body consciousness and spiritual benefits that Yoga asanas provide.
Adopting a regular Yoga practice is said to help strengthen the body-mind connection, which can create balance, flexibility and strength in our personal lives. Additionally, the practice of higher intensity yoga (such as Vinyasa flow) can help strengthen the cardiovascular system and tone the muscles in our bodies.
Since our physical bodies are the vehicles in which we express ourselves and navigate through our world, it’s vital that we care for our bodies through physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
Asana is the Sanskrit word for “seat” or “position”. When we commit to our Yoga practices and practice the various asanas with awareness, we provide our own bodies with a good “seat” or foundation, which allows us to experience the world with a brighter perspective and understanding of those around us, as well as connectedness to our environment.
Practicing the yoga asanas offers us benefits while we’re in the postures, but also helps strengthen our bodies, minds and spirits that carry us through our daily activities. Not only do we feel more flexible physically, but the flexibility expresses itself through an increased ability to be flexible when challenging circumstances arise in our daily lives.
In fact, there’s a well known Yogic expression that goes “Infinite flexibility is the secret to immortality”. This expressions suggests that flexibility promotes our youth and vitality, despite the number attached to our chronological age.
Gentle asana practice also helps prepare the body to sit in silence, and practice meditation to quiet the mind. By lengthening and strengthening our bodies through the asanas, we’re able to sit in silence for longer periods of time without becoming restless. Regular meditation allows us to deepen our connection to stillness, which can further promote our mental and emotional well-being to remain flexible with our ever-changing environment.
The importance of practicing the Asanas cannot be understated as an effective healing tool for those who are in recovery. All humans are capable of reacting to stress with fearful emotions, or running away from a stressful situation altogether. Unfortunately, the stress response we’re so familiar with can also promote internal damage, along with increased emotional and psychological stress. For example, the stress response (also called “fight or flight”) can increase our levels of stress hormones in the blood and suppress the immune system, which presents increased health risks for those who are struggling or overcoming addiction.
However, conscious breathing and awareness through a regular asana practice can be a key emotional regulator for those who frequently experience the fight or flight response. In turn, a lowered stress response promotes feelings of capability when it comes to handling life’s challenges and has a positive ripple effect when it comes to the mind, body and spiritual well-being as a whole.
Furthermore, simple yoga postures help reconnect those who may also be energetically disconnected from their personal bodies and environments, due to long engaged habits.
The flexibility that yoga postures creates in body and mind can help those who have struggled with addiction to view and approach life’s challenges in a brand new light— rather than turning to substances to help address unexpected or unwelcome circumstances in life.
And, when we invite such qualities into our lives, we can effortless move beyond any seemingly impossible obstacles that cross our paths.
There’s no better time than right now to begin practicing yoga. Yoga isn’t about flexibility or how deep you can move through an asana. Instead, yoga is a way of life and achieving a higher level of happiness and well-being.
We hope you’ll join us in practicing our asanas on International Yoga Day on June 21. The team at the Paradise Valley Healing Center is hosting the third International Day of Yoga in beautiful Victoria BC. Join us for a complimentary practice from 6:00-8:00 PM. Click “attend” on our International Yoga Day Facebook event to reserve your spot! We look forward to seeing you there.