Seeking perfection in practice

Category : Asanas (Postures), Philosophy 11th February 2019

Inside Yoga 260 (11/2/2019)

In the source yoga texts written by Patanjali he describes what we seek through our practice of yoga asanas (physical exercises) in terms of two qualities: alertness and relaxation.

The sutra (2.46) states that “asana must have the dual qualities of alertness and relaxation”, according to TKV Desikachar, or according to BKS Iyengar, “Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of the spirit.”

When teaching I have referred to these two qualities, sthira and sukham, as steadiness and a sense of ease.

As explained in the commentary by Desikachar the sutras’ texts are brief because the “practices must be learnt directly from a competent teacher.”

Desikachar explains that practising asanas help us to understand and use our bodies and breathing appropriately, and this is achieved by being aware and seeking to practice properly, by which he says: “there must be alertness with tension and relaxation without dullness or heaviness.” And this takes practice to perfect.

Iyengar describes in more detail the same process: “Whatever asanas is performed, it should be done with a feeling of firmness, steadiness and endurance in the body; goodwill in the intelligence of the head, and awareness and delight in the intelligence of the heart. This is how each asanas should be understood, practised and experienced. Performance of the asanas should be nourishing and illuminative.”

In other words, treated as a personal performance we try our best each time, we should avoid approaching our practice in a manner where are just going through the motions with our mind and heart elsewhere.

Iyengar continues in his explanation: “This sutra defines the perfected asana. From the very first sutra Patanjali demands the highest quality of attention to perfection. This discipline and attention must be applied to the practice of each asana, to penetrate to its very depths in the remotest parts of the body. Even the meditational asana has to be cultivated by the fibres, cells, joints and muscles in cooperation of the mind. If asanas are not performed in this way they become stale.”

Practice makes perfect, and while we might feel we will not reach perfection, remember this, in our efforts to get there we have improved and made a difference to quality of our practice and our life; this is why we practice yoga. Iyengar might be asking a lot, but consider this, everything we do requires effort, the question is how much are we willing to put in.

Reading reference:
The Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikachar
Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by BKS Iyengar

Related blogs:
Inside Yoga 17 –
Explore this yourself – through your practice.

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