How can yoga asanas help us understand we are part of a universal network?
All right, so you have been practicing a full set of yoga poses and pranayama exercises, found some minutes to relax on savasana and just finished your yoga class. You may have found in this deep yoga stretches and exercises just the perfect way to start the day full of energy or to prepare yourself to go to bed fully relaxed. Your body may feel so good and your mind so relaxed that you have already a practice routine once, twice a week, even every day.
Is not difficult to become a yoga addict once you start feeling the benefits of the practice. Stretching feels awesome, one of those things that even feels better the most we do it. Relieving tensions and pains, bringing us to the present moment. Work out help us stay in shape, fell stronger; it also produces endorphins and help us boost the mood. After a yoga class we are more likely feeling relaxed, and not to talk about all the nice things the teacher may have been talking about during the class “be kind to yourself”, “love your body”, “take time”, “let go”… all under a soft, sweet voice that made you rebuild your self-stem and fall into an almost magical trance of well-being.
And now you may wonder, how is this set of physical exercises and contortionism helping me understand and connect with the universe?
In a deeply individualistic society, the practice of yoga should be, beyond the need to feed our pride, beyond the seek of a voice stating of our own perfection the way we are (despite the questionability of our moral values and life styles), an exercise of introspection and transformation, a self reflection and a seek towards a grater understanding of our position as part of a system.
According to Swami Kryshnananda in The Cosmology of Yoga Practice "The practice of yoga, should awaken us to a vision behind these physical performances. And to understand how a physical exercise like yoga's asanas can become Yoga (Union), you have to understand the background of these Asanas, the philosophy on which the whole Yoga system is rooted".
The philosophy of the Asanas
Yoga holds that the universe is a complete organism, where its infinite different parts constitute an interdependent living system. Call it mother nature, the universe is not alive, is life it self.
Just like a representation of the universe it self, the body constitutes one system in which its parts depend on one another. All this parts are what and how they are because the way they interact between each other and the environment around us. You may think on your muscles, skeleton, tendons, fascia, nervous system, blood circulation, emotions and thoughts (among others) all taking part in you being conscious of your life experience (walking, eating, loving, thinking, dreaming…). One move, one thought, Its strength comes from their organic connection with the total system of the body. All is connected, literally.
Now, metaphorically, I like to tell my students to think on each Yoga Pose as a different situation in life. Some we may experience and feel easier, enjoyable, supportive; some we may feel challenging, uncomfortable, dis-likable. Further from learning life resilience what I encourage them to is to bring attention and observe where is the judgment coming from. Attention to the parts that compose this experience. Attention to how are we positioning different body parts and how are those reacting to the pose, attention to how are we breathing, attention to what and how are we feeling and thinking, and beyond this self-scan attention to how are all these “single pieces” affecting each other and affecting the whole.
The pose it self is not enjoyable or challenging, is our subjective experience what produces a judgment on it; the arising feelings, or sense-driven phenomena that the nervous system produces as a result of a physical pose.
Let’s not forget the ultimate purpose of the physical yoga practice: To prepare the body for meditation. Once the body has been calmed through asana practice, the consciousness can now be directed inward, beyond the senses.
For the Yoga practice, asanas are the beginning, the initial stages of your movement towards larger realities ahead of you. Though they appear to be different from one another, they have a common purpose. They aim to concentration and attention on details so that we move from a physical level inward, towards more subtle levels or dimensions of consciousness. To maybe some of us “pierce through this dark curtain of oblivion, ignorance, which has made us forget our connection with our Parent, which is the universe.”
This inclusion of the larger dimensions within your experience is what is called human consideration, appreciation, love, affection. The realization that we, all beings are essentially one.
That doesn’t mean not to recognize and embrace our differences. Precisely, the more you are able to feel your relation with the infinite different, wide surroundings, living and not living natural beings, to recognize the common essence on all, then the more are you will also able to reach your better version of yourself (kind, comprehensive) and approximate your individual existence with the larger dimension of the universe.
Yoga is therefore, not a system of religious thinking, it is a science of living in a manner that shall make you perfect in every way. Perfect as a realization, not as a religion, not as a social stereotype, not as what you think your perfect "you" is and try to achieve it as a goal. But as as realizing your already existing perfection and embracing it, clearing all the obstacles you built around and don't let you see this perfection in all, one which is unique on you and at the same time universal.
There is something magical on being a yoga instructor and guiding others through their process.