Dear Yoga Mentor, My Question Is…

Sometimes students have written to or asked Swami Veda Bharati, Swami Ritavan Bharati, and other senior teachers in our tradition questions about practice.  This is one such “Question and Answer,” or Q&A.


Could you shower your guidance on Asana perfection???

Three have answered this question: Mrs. Lalita Arya (Ammaji), Michael Smith, and Carolyn Hume.
From Mrs. Lalita Arya (Ammaji):

I would like to share an early experience of Asana practice.  When Swami Veda was a single guy visiting Suriname and Guyana in South America, he did a lot of lecture tours as Pt Usharbudh. All his friends, students, devotees knew him as Pandit. Since he was young, dynamic and seeped in Vedic Lore and Knowledge, he was loved by all, except a few who were jealous of his popularity especially among the Youths. He had managed to organize training of youths in Yoga & Meditation camps. You had to apply early for admission to these as they would fill up quickly. In the beginning these were only for males. I happened to be the Head of the female wing and was persuaded to ask him to hold a camp for young women also so we could benefit. After much persuasion by three top members of our group, he agreed.  We who had not known anything about what the training meant were overjoyed. We were mistaken. At first there was NO joy in those yoga practices... it was vigorous training. Since I was the Head I was expected to perform 100% in both asanas & its attendant practice of sitting for meditation for hours. I was not a very athletic person then, but under his and his other trained teachers' strict and attentive supervision we excelled. I recall one particular asana I was having some trouble mastering. He said something significant then - You are doing the asana only with your body, first do it in your mind, master it there, breathe, then let it flow into your body. It changed our approach in all our practice to success- not only of yoga asana...

To be aware that we are not only physical beings is important to remember in every walk of life. With best wishes for success to all. With Love and in service, Ammaji

From Michael Smith:

"Asana perfection." When people use those words, it usually means that they have an image in their heads of an ideal way to perform a pose – from looking at their teacher, or another student in the class, or a photograph in a book. And there is usually a wide disconnect between that ideal image in their heads and what they are capable of doing. They feel that they should attain asana perfection, but it is impossible for them to do it. So right from the start, there is emotional tension and strain – frustration or discouragement or anger – because there is a split, a kind of schizophrenia, between their self-expectation and their present situation. So, we could say that for most people who come to Hatha Yoga classes, there cannot be "asana perfection" in that sense because perfection in yoga means harmony and balance and contentment (santosha). The next question to ask might be: "Is there another sense in which there can be "asana perfection" for almost everyone? And the answer is "Yes." Swami Veda and Ashutosh Sharma have talked about it extensively.

Swami Veda’s has written in his book, Philosophy of Hatha Yoga:

“The primary consideration in the practice of hatha yoga philosophically is the practice of mindfulness, self-observation, the habit of being a witness to one’s own physical functions, aware of whatever we are doing with our bodies, whether it be the external surfaces of the body or internal things like muscle tension, heart rate, blood-flow, and breathing.” (p. 4)  “The grossest meaning of the word hatha is force, . . . but it is a gentle forcing . . . so when one begins to understand from where that gentle forcing comes, the meaning of hatha shifts – and then one is thinking not of the physical body alone, but of subtler truths, cosmic truths, the universal energy fields, the sun and the moon.” (pp. 2-3)

In Chapter Four of this book Swami Veda comments on three sutras about “asana perfection” from Patanjali’s Yoga-sutras:

Sutra II.46 Sthira-sukham āsanam.
A posture [as a constituent of yoga] is that which is steady and easeful.

Sutra II.47 Pra-yatna-śhaithilyānanta-sam-ā-pattibhyām
[The posture is perfected, made steady and comfortable] through relaxing the effort and coalescence [of awareness] with the endless, or with endlessness.

Sutra II.48 Tato dvandvānabhi-ghātaḥ.
Thereby one is no longer impeded by pairs of opposites [pain & pleasure, hot & cold, etc.]

The phrase pra-yatna-shaithilya (relaxation of effort) in Sutra II.47 is one of the central practices of the Prana-vidya Hatha Yoga style, or as Swami Veda would say, "relaxing the mind that is in the body."

Ashutosh Sharma has described what happens when perfection is shifted from being “positionally-based” to being “awareness-based”:

“When you are doing asanas as meditation, sometimes the state comes when you cannot move further. You are doing one posture, and you are just THERE. What makes you move? A thought! Sometimes you are so inward, it's empty, the mind is empty and still, and you cannot move. You forget. For several minutes you are THERE, like frozen, because there is no more thought inside. It is completely empty, still. If that state comes, stay there. Don't struggle to go further. But you cannot struggle, because there is nothing. It's empty! Okay? So we are trying to find THAT state, because after an "Asana as Meditation" session, one cannot move. Even if you want to get up, you cannot get up, because you don't have the will to get up anymore. Because here we are trying to balance ‘ha’ and ‘tha,’ ida and pingala, and now you are in sushumna. So many people, they just go THERE, and then you can't move. You don't feel like moving. You just enjoy that moment you are THERE.”

To see how this state can be achieved in asana practice, see the DVD of Ashutosh Sharma teaching hatha yoga as meditation in a 3-DVD set titled Extended Hatha Yoga, available through the Bookstore at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG) [or inquire at http://ahymsin.org/main/book-and-dvd-orders.html .]

From Carolyn Hume:

Years ago at Honesdale when Swami Rama was in residence on campus, I was in a morning Joints & Glands class. There was an older woman in the class near me, and I am not sure what her physical condition was, but I think among other things she was crippled with arthritis. She could not do any of the exercises in a manner that would match the appearance of the demonstrations, not even something like the hand stretches. During the class and afterwards I was struck with the feeling that she was doing the Joints & Glands Exercises better than anyone else in the room. This is actually the strongest memory I have from any hatha classes attended and somehow the words I have used in describing the incident do not quite seem to hold the strength of the feeling that I received, the love that flowed through me.

There is the willingness to be present and not to be afraid or embarrassed if it does not meet your own conception of how you should be or the conceptions of others. Whatever corrections, learning, or experiences you receive flow from love and are not a judgment that is finding fault with you.

Editor’s Notes:

If you have a question about spiritual practice, you can use this link to ask it:  http://ahymsin.org/main/adhyatma-samiti-spiritual-committee.html

To read “Dear Yoga Mentor, My Question Is…” columns, please use this link: http://ahymsin.org/main/practice/dear-yoga-mentor-my-question-is.html

Sometimes authorship to the book Philosophy of Hatha Yoga is given as "Swami Veda Bharati" and sometime as "Pandit Usharbudh Arya", Swami Veda’s pre-sanyasi name.

Swami Veda Bharati authored the book Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with the Exposition of Vyasa, Vol. II: Sadhana-Pada.

Exercises for Joint and Glands by Swami Rama are available in book form, Kindle, and in a DVD.


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