Asana – seeking your posture in life
Transcribed Satsang with Prabhuji
from July 17, 2010
Hatha yoga is perhaps the most ancient psycho-physiological system known to humanity; it begins with the practice of asanas, or “postures.” The asana is the third limb of Patañjali Maharṣi’s aṣṭāṅga-yoga system. To further understand this, it’s important to refer to Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra.
The Yoga Sūtra is divided into four different chapters called pādas, or “feet.” Just like a table needs four legs in order to stand, so the Yoga Sūtra is supported by four pādas. These four chapters are written in sūtras, which are like capsules that contain the maximum wisdom within the minimum amount of words.
In the sādhana-pāda (chapter 2), sūtra 46, Patañjali explains what an asana is:
That is a posture: sthira-sukham āsanam, it is steady and comfortable; in other words, when you feel steady and comfortable, you are in an asana, although, not every position can be called an asana.
Sūtra 47 says:
The asana is achieved by eliminating tension and meditating on the infinite.
This gives us a guide, a direction, on how to reach the asana, how to find it and be situated in it.
And sūtra 48 says:
In accomplishing the asana [in attaining mastery over the asana], one also attains immunity from the pairs of opposites.
We are going to examine deeper these three sūtras in order to better understand what an asana is. Sūtra 46 says:
The asana is stable and comfortable.
Most of us practice hatha yoga and know what an asana is: it is to remain in a specific posture for a certain period of time, steady, stable, comfortable, in watchfulness, and in a meditative state.
There are those who try to divide postures into physical and meditative, but actually, every posture is as meditative as it is physical. What happens is that before we have attained mastery over the posture, we think it’s physical because we are still struggling and making efforts to reach it. So we relate to it as something physical. However, when some mastery has been achieved, we refer to it as a meditative posture.
To delve into the subject of the yogic posture, it will be essential to understand that the Vedic sages of antiquity—and yoga in general—clearly do not consider the physical body as disconnected from the mind. The psychic and physical planes are not separate. Much to the contrary, they are different aspects of the same phenomenon. The mind is the body; the body is the mind. The body is an externalization of the mind. It is the mind moving on the physical plane.
According to Sanātana-dharma—from which yoga originates—human beings are not something as simple as physical bodies with souls inside. Rather, they comprise many facets, levels, and aspects: physical, mental, emotional, energetic… Therefore, when Patañjali speaks to us about a posture, clearly, he isn’t referring solely to a physical position; when he says that the asana is steady and comfortable, he’s referring to the body, as well as all that the human being encompasses.
After this introduction, we can begin to examine the steadiness and comfort of the asana.
According to yoga, disease is one of the great obstacles on the spiritual path. Not only because disease prevents us from being able to study or have association with our spiritual master, there’s much more to it: pain, discomfort, uneasiness, remind us of the body. When we have a migraine, we remember the head; indigestion reminds us of the stomach; a sprain reminds us of the muscle. Of course, this causes us great discomfort on the mental level because the body and the mind are related.
The posture must, therefore, be comfortable and stable. When you feel comfortable, a process of forgetting the body occurs. When there is no indigestion, you don’t remember your stomach; when there is no sprain and the muscles are comfortable, you don’t feel them, you forget them; you forget your head when there is no migraine and you see it as a great orifice in the universe from which you observe everything that happens.
When placing yourself in the comfortable asana, you forget your anatomy; a forgetfulness of your physical aspect occurs, which includes much more than the body. It is the forgetting of an attitude toward life, a concept: your bodily attitude toward life.
What do we forget? Not only our limitation of space and time—our form—but also the concept that “I am the body,” that “I was born on the day that the body appeared,” that “I love all those who have some relationship, in one way or another, to this body: my children, my wife, my nieces and nephews, my grandchildren, my compatriots, because they are an expansion of my body.”
To forget is to cease searching for happiness and bliss through the body and the senses, to stop giving it champagne or smoke; because if I desire happiness and I am the body, then the way to be happy is by offering the body pleasure and enjoying it. However, we continue to be just as miserable because we are not only the body. It is one of our aspects, but it isn’t everything.
To be situated in the asana is to forget the very limited concept we have of ourselves and of life; it’s to forget the body and the worship of the geographical place from where it came to this world: “I am Chilean, Chile is the most glorious country!” “I am British, England is the most powerful country!” “I am Russian, Russia is the motherland!”
If we forget ourselves on the physical level, sooner or later we will forget ourselves on the mental level because body and mind are two aspects of the same phenomenon, the same reality. Through the body, we can learn what is happening in a person on the mental level: sadness, happiness, enjoyment, jealousy, anger. All this is reflected on our faces and in our physical postures. All that happens in the mind is expressed through the body. Even lie detectors can identify electric reactions in the body because what is happening in the mind is expressed in the brain, and what is happening in the brain is expressed in the body. The mind and the body are like two ends of the same cord. In this way, in the asana, you forget the body and at the mental level, forgetfulness of the mind occurs.
Why is this forgetting so important? We have been taught to remember, to memorize. Since grade school, to learn has meant to remember for a test: if we remember what they ask us, we pass and succeed; if we don’t remember, we are in trouble. To remember is to know, to remember is to progress.
On the path of religion, on the spiritual field, it is exactly the opposite: it is a process of forgetting, for the simple reason that the ego is memory and remembrance. Therefore, if the path of religion is to transcend the ego, transcending ourselves will be to forget.
We are memory, we are the recollection of all opinions or ideas and of all that has been said about us. From the first moment that they told us our name: “You are Joseph, you are John, you are Rose, you are Miriam, that is who you are…” and we remembered it.
Afterwards, we continued remembering opinions: you are pretty, you are ugly, you are smart, you are an unbearable person, you are a teacher, a doctor, etc. However, of this entire aggregate of opinions, not one is your own, not one is your own discovery: they are a collection of external opinions concerning what you are, whose authority is another person; but you are not the authority of any of them.
When we’re asked who or what we are, we whip out the list: I am Chilean, I am Russian, I am Argentinean, I am from here, I am from there, I am John, I am Michael, I am Mary; and we go on… This has led us to so many inferiority complexes! It is all on the list: I am a doctor, a teacher, a bank teller, etc. This pile of ideas is the ego. Now, to transcend this I-idea is exactly to forget, because the mind is remembering. One who is capable of forgetting the body can achieve the process of this forgetfulness gradually occurring at every level.
And how is this attained? Patañjali tells us in sūtra 47:
The asana, or ‘posture,’ is reached by eliminating tension and meditating on the infinite.
This is what we have been accustomed to in life: “How do we achieve? How do we do? How do we get?” We must strive for all that we desire, aspire to, and want because we are acting from a place of lack, of absence. We go through life with the deep impression that we’re missing something, and we believe that by possessing—and to possess one must strive—we will succeed in filling this void. You do not realize that you are what is missing. The one who is not present here and now is you.
The ego is an immense pit into which we are constantly throwing things: objects, money, fame, honor, people… This pit never closes, instead it keeps on growing. We’ve been taught to strive, to do. The ego is the great actor that does in order to obtain, to achieve.
That inheres in society, in this world. However, in the sphere of religion, in the spiritual realm, if you want to obtain spiritual benefits—like meditation, enlightenment, God, the soul—then relaxation is required. These benefits need an opportunity in order to emerge; in other words, you need to eliminate tension. Tension is a kind of obstacle for the occurrence of yourself, for consciousness to happen, for heaven to caress you. Tension and anxiety are obstacles: every spiritual benefit comes when you relax.
You can only attain what you are when you do not try to obtain it because in trying to reach it, there is tension, there is anxiety. To eliminate tension is to transcend the ego, because the ego is tension and anxiety. Thus, this elimination of tension is the way to reach the asana, your posture; and when the posture occurs, meditation will occur.
The posture is much more than a physical pose; we also take a posture toward a situation or a person, toward life. It’s not just a physical meaning, it’s also an attitude. If you look around and see the world and the people going from here to there—from one job to another, from one house to another, from one profession to another—you’ll see that everyone is seeking the posture because no one is stable.
We are susceptible to being moved by illusion, desires, or temptations, and we are always seeking something more. Because we feel so uncomfortable! We seek the posture. To find the posture is to find ourselves because when we find the place, we find the one who is situated in that place. To find the posture is to situate ourselves, and that is what we are all seeking: to become situated in our place.
Where is the stable and comfortable place? In sūtra 48, Patañjali says:
In accomplishing the āsana, one also attains immunity from the pairs of opposites.
The mind doesn’t move, rather it is movement; the mind is activity. This is why Patañjali Maharṣi says, at the beginning of the Yoga Sūtra: yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ, which means that yoga is a state in which the mind is quiet and there is no mental movement of the vṛttis. Therefore, when we attain mastery over the asana and situate ourselves in it, the body manages to become still and similarly the mind becomes still: there is no mental movement and there are no more mental waves.
Since the mind is movement and activity, upon stopping… it no longer exists! A quiet mind is a mind that isn’t there because the mind is like a dance: when we cease to move, there is no dance. Dance is the movement itself. If we are dancing, there is a dance; but if we stop, there is no dance… Likewise, the mind is the movement of the vṛttis, or thoughts, but when the mind attains that steady state and ceases to move, there is no mind.
You are the mind, so in that stillness of the asana, you’re absent; you’re not somewhere, but you are. That is to say, you’re there as a presence but your concepts, ideas, and opinions dissipate. It is said that the world disappears when the ego vanishes, but what disappears is your world: your way of seeing and interpreting it. You cease to be there as a separate entity, disconnected from the universe. It is the disappearance of what you think you are, of what you believe yourself to be, of that accumulation of opinions that you have been told you are. Rather, you are present as what you really are, your authenticity, and your reality.
Patañjali says: sthira-sukham āsanam, “the asana must be firm and comfortable.” Everyone is going around seeking his or her posture in life. To find it is to find yourself. It’s no coincidence that in Genesis, chapter 3, verse 9, the omniscient, all-knowing God asks Adam a question. He asks, “ayeka?” “Where art thou?” For many years, I asked myself how it could be that God, who is omniscient, did not know where Adam was. Finally, I reached the conclusion that rather than a question, it’s advice: “Where art thou?” Search for where you are among all the things that belong to you: my house, my country, my family, my body, my foot, my hand, my head, my heart, my brain, my mind, my spirit, my soul; but where is that which you can call the “I”? If you find out where you are, if you place yourself… you discover yourself.
The seat of the guru is special. The disciples sit on the floor and the guru is seated on a big chair that is called a vyāsāsan, or “the asana of Vyāsa.” This is because it is reserved for someone who has found his asana, the original asana.
If you find the posture here, where you are—not where your body, your mind, or your thoughts are—if you put yourself firmly in the here, nothing can move you, not illusion, desires, nor fantasies, so steady and so comfortable that nothing in the universe can entice you.
It is said that such beings, wherever they go—even if they talk and move throughout all the universes, like Nārada, never move from the now. Someone who is unmoved by memories, nostalgia, imagination, or future ambitions, is always situated in the now, only in the now, moving in the eternal now, in the eternal moment… not moving in or from the past, rather situated in the now, in the here.
To seek the asana is to seek yourself. “Where am I?” is like asking yourself, “Who am I?” The discovery is a revelation that in the dual world of relativity, we seek pleasure, enjoyment, and happiness; and when they speak to us about enlightenment—of finding ourselves or of finding our posture—we may think they’re speaking of a great pleasure or happiness. But those who know would say otherwise: the realization of your authentic nature brings you to the comfort of being in the place where you belong, of being what you are. It’s that type of comfort from which nothing can tempt you because there can be no greater pleasure.
Comfort is your place; your place is transcendental comfort.