The THIRD LIMB of Patanjali’s ASHTANGA YOGA is a where most people enter the practice of yoga. This is where we encounter those ubiquitous yoga classes where you sweat your a*** off for an hour, get stretched to within an inch of you life and then do your best corpse impression! So, what has being folded into a pretzel got to do with YOGA?
In the West the third limb of Ashtanga Yoga, the physical practice of ASANA or ‘posture’, is most closely associated with yoga. The practice of Asana moves, stretches and manipulates the body, cleansing it of harmful toxins and eliminating disease (dis-ease). Gradually, over time, the challenging nature of the postures correctly realigns the body’s physiology, bringing agility, balance and greater vitality, returning the physical cells back to their natural state of well-being.
For most people Asana is the entry point to yoga practice. Asana represents something we can experience directly and in ‘reality’, since it is much easier to manipulate the physical body than to unravel the complexities and subtleties of the YAMAS and NIYAMAS. Making the yoga ‘real’ gives it a credibility that encourages us not to quit before the yoga has a chance to actually work.
However, through the practice of asana our mind is clarified and our consciousness begins to open up. We thus naturally become more aware of how we treat others (Yama) and our self (Niyama), and so become inadvertently exposed to the principles behind the first two limbs of Ashtanga Yoga.
When the yoga poses become comfortable the student is ready for PRANAYAMA, the fourth limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga.
Pranayama involves removing the restrictions that inhibit the natural flow of the breath. Often translated as ‘breath control’, it is more accurately a practice that restores freedom to the inner breath, which is closely associated with Prana (life-force energy). As we stretch the breath we begin to awaken and harness the latent Prana stored deep within the body, channeling it around the system to restore vitality and well-being.
Tomorrow we’ll look at ‘Internal Yoga’ through the next two limbs.
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