Thursday, August 7, 2008

The third limb is asana (Ashtanga Yoga, Practice & Philosophy, Gregor Maehle)

As the Yoga Sutra explains,"every thought, emotion, and experience leaves a subconscious imprint (samskara) in the mind. These imprints determine who we will be in the future. According to the Brhad Aranyaka Upanishad, as long as liberation is not achieved, the soul, like a caterpillar that draws itself from one blade of grass over to the next, will, by the force of its impressions in this life, reach out and draw itself over to a new body in a new life.

This means that the body we have today is nothing but the accumulation of our past thoughts, emotions, and actions. In fact, our body is crystalliqed history of our past thoughts. This needs to be deeply understood and contemplated. It means that asana is the method that releases us from past conditioning, stored in the body , to arrive in the present moment.

How do past emotions, thoughts and impressions manifest in the body? Some students of yoga experience a lot of anger on commencing forward bending. This is due to past anger having been stored in the hamstrings. If we consciously let got of the anger, the emotion will disappear. If not, it will surface in some other form, possibly as an act of aggression or as a chronic disease. Emotional pain is stored in the chest, where it functions like armor, hardening around the heart. This armor may be dissolved in backbending. If we let go of the armor, a feeling of tremendous relief will result, sometimes accompanied by crying.

Extreme stiffness can be related to mental rigidity or the inability to let oneself be transported into unknown situations. Extreme flexibility, on the other hand, can be related to the inability to take a position in life and to set boundaries. In this case, asana practice needs to be more strength based, to create a balance and to learn to resist being stretched to inappropriate places. Asana invites us to acknowledge the past and let it go. This will in turn bring us into the present moment and allow us to let go of limiting concepts such as who we think we are.