April 29, 2010

Asana – Out of Body Experience?

Posted in Mindful Living, Yoga tagged , , , at 12:07 pm by moondeva

Is Yoga Asana supposed to take you out of your body and into the mind? Less body-obsessed and more mindful?

Reading Grounding Thru The Sit Bones the other day, Brenda posted an interesting discussion about the value (or not) of hybrid yoga.

…these should be activities that force you to leave the external world and enter an interior one. Asana should help you get out of your body…. It’s hard work to exercise the brain, but that is what doing yoga …is to me.

My first reaction to “asana should help you get out of your body”, was – Wait a minute, Asana is about being in my body more fully!  I’ve always felt that asana practice helps me make the journey from my brain to my heart. I don’t think I’ve ever described asana as a brain exercise.  But, the reason I love these discussions is that it makes me think through my beliefs. So here goes…

Does asana help people to be less body-focused? Does asana make people less body-obsessed?  The answer to every question in Yoga (and life) is “It Depends”. I could easily answer “Yes” to both these questions. But, it could also be that asana makes us more body-focused.

In our western approach to asana, and in the mass yoga culture images, we are forced to reckon with “perfect asana”, “perfect yoga bodies”, “perfect yoga clothes”, etc.  With the prevalence of mirrored classrooms and yoga magazines with a narrow range of body types reflected back to us, even those of us with the best of intentions to move inward, can get hung up on the external goals and benefits of  the practice. This is the negative aspect of “Body-focused”.

But, for me, asana helps me be more body-conscious in the positive sense. Conscious in my body. Moving consciousess through my body in new ways. Feeling my brain/mind/awareness extending through my whole body through the countless nerve pathways and energetic meridians.  I love to move through asanas  because, at some point when I am moving and one with my breath, I have let down the burden of my mind chatter and to-do list and even my personality; my role as mother or wife or teacher. It feels less like “brain” and more like “mind”. Present Mind. But not out of my body. Through it! 

Is Yoga “supposed” to get you out of your body? Well, classically defined, Yoga is Mediation, an absorptive process that slowly allows you to separate your identity from the purely physical (and mental) and unite with the Pure Conciousness which is formless. Many have, and do, undertake this journey with a disdain for the body – something that is a burden to be overcome. 

Yoga asana, as a prepration for meditation, can certainly make me feel more free of the burdens of the body so that I can experience a calmer mind. But,  since I tend to gravitate toward the Tantric traditions, my perspective is one of respect and delight for this body as a vehicle of consciousness. This body-mind is what gives me the ability to sit in meditation and find Union.  I do not eschew the body, and I strive not to cling to it either. I practice appreciating its usefullness, enjoying its pleasures, and pursuing freedom from attachment.

What is your experience? Do you practice asana to get into the body? out of the body? into the mind? out of the mind?

Are well all just out of our minds? Wait, don’t answer that.

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2 Comments »

  1. Brenda P. said,

    Exactly! It is sort of both, isn’t it. I guess I meant in the “preparing the body for mediation” kind of practice. But, yes, one of the things I always hope to get from my students is more awareness of their own bodies. Good point.

    I sort of use asana as physical pranayama…something to make me calm down and turn inward. At the beginning of the practice I’m very aware of my body and the physical sensations, but by the time I reach savasana I find I can let myself completely focus on the breath and stop feeling my body.

    What a great puzzle!

  2. Tristanne said,

    Nicole- thanks for your posting. Interesting conversation. I love Yoga (specifically Anusara) because it grounds me in my body and thereby gives me freedom from my mind (which is where I spend a lot of my time!! and not always happily). However, what I love about the Anusara practice is that there is a lovely balance – not TOO much body-focus, which has the tendency to lead to unhealth and unhappiness- especially in our comparative and competitive culture. So, through a yogic practice, the body becomes a tool to respect and love, while also recognizing its fundamental impermanence.


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