by Catherine Madsen
Bliss Crafter, Austin Yoga Tree
The third limb of yoga is asana, or pose. Before we go into detail about the physical side of yoga, let’s recall the first two limbs.
The first limb is yama, which means restraint. These shape our daily behaviors and provide us with a strong foundation we can build other limbs upon. The five yamas are:
1. Ahimsa – nonviolence
2. Satya – truthfulness
3. Asteya – non-stealing
4. Brahmacharya – moderation
5. Aparigraha – non-possessiveness
The second limb is niyama, which means observance. These are recommended habits for a healthy life that also help continue our journey through the eight limbs. The five niyamas are:
1. Saucha – cleanliness
Now let’s learn more about the next limb, asana! There are two important lessons to be learned about this limb based on its position within the eight limbs.
The first lesson is that asanas, or poses, are NOT the first limb. This means that they are not the foundation for the remaining seven limbs. Instead, our asanas come after the yamas and niyamas, demonstrating that a daily practice of restraints and observances is required for us to efficiently work on our poses.
The second lesson is that asanas are NOT the eighth limb. This shows that they are not the culmination of the previous seven limbs. If our asanas were the overall goal of our spiritual journey, perfecting poses would be the key to enlightenment. We can all agree that is not true nor is it possible since there is no such thing as perfection when to comes to our poses. Instead, asanas help guide us towards the next limbs by clearing space in the body and mind.
“The purpose of asana is to help purify the body.” – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
When we begin to work on the third limb of yoga, it is crucial to keep our yamas and niyamas in mind. Asana practice is meant to help bring the first two limbs onto the mat. For example, santosha means we are content with our bodies, no matter how much they may change from one day to the next. Saucha means keeping our yoga mats and props clean and tidy as well as coming into class with a refreshed body. When we put our restraints and observances into practice, we are then able to truly practice our poses.
We can also look at the third limb as a stepping-stone to the remaining five limbs. The poses that we practice are designed to help us develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate. Asanas can also help free us of physical distractions so that we are better able to control our bodies. Once we have control over our bodies, we can begin to cultivate control over the mind. Discipline, concentration, and control of our bodies and minds are what allow us to be able to meditate. Patanjali said, “Posture is mastered by freeing the body and mind from tension and restlessness and meditating on the infinite.” The third limb of yoga allows our bodies to be cooperative and limber so we may sit and meditate.
“This down-to-earth, flesh-and-bones practice is simply one of the most direct and expedient ways to meet yourself. This limb of yoga practice reattaches us to our body. In reattaching ourselves to our bodies we reattach ourselves to the responsibility of living a life guided by the undeniable wisdom of our body.”
Next week we will move on to the fourth limb of yoga, pranayama, and learn about the significance of the breath.