“Yoga pose is a steady and comfortable position. Yoga pose is mastered by relaxation of effort, lessening the tendency for restless breathing, and promoting an identification of oneself as living within the infinite breath of life.” Yoga sutras 2.46 & 47. Translation by Mukunda Stiles.
Like most Americans, I was introduced to yoga in a fitness-based yoga class. However, it was not quite like other fitness classes I had taken. Over time, I did get stronger. My posture improved. I had more stamina. And I am sure that at one point I probably touched my toes. But that never seemed to be the goal. What seemed most important was that I learned to breathe with my movement, care for myself, rest when I needed to, and determine when I was ready to move further into a pose. My thinking began to shift, and I started to see myself and everything around me differently.
Over the last two weeks, I have introduced the section of the Patanjali’s Sutras that presents the eight limb path of yoga practice. It is also called Ashtanga yoga or Raja yoga, the Royal Path. The first four of these limbs are considered the outward limbs–social ethics, personal disciplines, yoga postures and breath control. These practices set the stage for the inner limbs–withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation and total absorption.
Outwardly, in our practice, we are focused on yoga postures and breath control. Inwardly we are using these poses to gain awareness and understanding of ourselves, becoming more skillful, not only in our bodies but also our thinking. Each person adapts a pose to her unique body, abilities and energy level for that day. We use our breath to still the vacillating disturbances of our minds, release tension and relax.
And sometimes we sit down in a chair, bring an ankle onto our knee and touch our toes.