Can We Attain Enlightenment (Yoga) Just By Asana?

A few weeks ago I had just that question: is it possible that asana (yoga poses) alone could be the means to get to the higher limbs of yoga, to concentration meditation and that eternal peace with keen discrimination, that seeing what IS?

I was particularly curious after reading of a conference report in which Sharath had mentioned how we should put less focus on socializing and more on practice and how through asana we get into a state of dharana (focus or the six limb of yoga).

In the comments of that post I concluded that perhaps I should ask myself if presented the opportunity: Is asana really enough?

Seems my very question was already answered in last Sunday's Conference which Kino compiled in detail, and from which I am drawing a few paragraphs below in red. Thank you Kino!  And of course, thank you Sharath.

Asana as stabilizer

First you stabilize the mind because if the mind is not in your control it will be like a monkey, a drunken monkey, that is jumping everywhere. First you need to control your mind and for that you need discipline and this comes from the practice of asana. Once we do asanas then mind will also come into your control. It doesn’t come all at once, you have to do for a long time

If the body is not stabilized, relatively healthy, disciplined, how can one hope to sit for hours attempting concentration, which is only the six limb on the way to freedom?  And of course...

"Over a long period of time"Yoga Sutra I-14: The practice becomes firmly grounded by being continued for a long time with reverence, without interruption.

Asanas are Spiritual

Asana is the foundation for all spiritual building, if the foundation is strong then the building will be strong. Mind transformation will happen when you do asanas. For others it looks like physical, it is only when you go inside and practice asana for many years then only can you realize how spiritual it really is


I think of Asanas as how we get started on a long journey
I particularly liked this part the reinforcement of the important of asana.  They are important because "when you go inside", and by that I understand when you feel the silence and completely draw your attention into sensations of the body, proper alignment, flowing, the breath, the bandhas, then you are going within. You are focusing, and hence accessing, brushing with the higher limbs of yoga. Almost flirting with liberation.

There is Meditation Within Asana

The tristana method develops your concentration so that when you go to pranayama, dhyana and the more subtle limbs, you are more focused. There is dhyana during asana and while it is not strong it is still present. 

So there is the answer, yes there is dhyana-meditation. I was just modesty hoping for dhyana-focus (6th limb) but he goes as far as to name the 7th limb of yoga or meditation, although maybe not as strong.

The tristasana method (combining the poses with the eye focus indicated for each of them and the breathing with sound) helps bring us into concentration AND meditation.
Bandha is not a part of Tristasana because
Bandha needs to be engaged all day (as per another conference)
This is in agreement with Patanjali's sutras, and even Vipassana meditation. We still will find the proper focus and fall into meditation while sited in a steady pose, but during asana, as we prepare the ground for spiritual work, we get glimpses of it, we strengthen it, we begin to work with it.

And even though it might not be as strong as in a sitted completely withdrawn practice, the ability to go within and to experience it, the promise of it, is there.

Asana as Foundation

Asana is the foundation to reach higher levels in your practice. Then think about yama, niyama and try to follow that. It is a process that happens day by day, year by year. Only if you do it for a long time will you understand. In this instant world no one has patience, their focus is only on authorization or certification. A real yogi doesn’t need a certificate saying that he is a yogi, that he is enlightened. For enlightenment you cannot get a certificate.”

I have experienced in my own practice that thoughts, glimpses, and work on the yamas and niyamas (do's and dont's) re-appeared and were better observed through the practice of asana.  Even as soon as we get on the mat, when the mind wants to rush to get the next pose at the risk of hurting the body. The a glimpse ahimsha, the first yama, the non-harming component appears (see below for the yamas and niyamas).



The closing line is one that touches all of us, whatever  the "certificate" part may be in our lives.  Whatever we think we may want, or think we may not want. It is not about that, it is really about using the tools of yoga to go within and find freedom.  To be happy, but not in the general understanding we have of happiness but rather in the level of ultimate happiness.

---

Yamas: the DON'Ts of yoga.  

Don't cause harm.  (Ahimsa)
Don't lie.   (Satya)
Stay Away from things that are not offered to you.  (Asteya...or "a-stay-a-way" from what does not belong to you)
Use Sexual Energy Efficiently (Bramacharya)
Use only what you need. Don't be greedy.   (Aparigraha)

Niyamas, the DOs of Yoga

Keep clean, in body, mind, teeth, tongue, nostrils, armpits, language, choice of words, gestures. (Shaucha)
Maintain an attitude of contentment whatever life may bring (Santosha)
Be modest and keep your practice,  (Tapas/Austerity)
Read scriptures,  and use them in your life, study yourself, your reactions, how you interact. (Svadhyaya)
Surrender (Ishvarapranidhana).  
---

Kino's article (linked above as well)

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11 comments:

  1. Just a quick clarification request if you know this: No bandha release in Savasana?

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  2. SF, good point. I do not go around all day long with bandhas tightened at all times... but that might be worth posing the question when in conference. I am pretty sure sukasana or relaxation post includes letting go of everything so the nervous system can rest, so I would agree with you.

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  3. Thanks and welcome! James and Suzanne :-)

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  4. Very enlightening post, Claudia! I think you just gave me ideas for my next post...

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  5. Cool Nobel, can't wait to read it

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  6. Btw, as somone who is going to Mysore next week (me), what a great resource you have here - all the people blogging from Mysore on the right hand side. Nice job ptting that together and offering that real estate to bloggers.

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  7. very interesting post. i'm in yoga teacher training now, and we've discussed this point often - if asana is enough. i appreciate your disection of the topic - it certainly has me thinking...

    namaste,
    cailen
    www.lifestylemaven.org

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  8. thanks cailen good luck with the training

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