Patanjali Yoga Sutra — स्थिरसुखमासनम् ॥2.46॥


Āsana is a delightful or pleasant way of positioning a stable body.

This is the definition given by Patañjali for āsana.

Bhagavān Śrīkr̥ṣṇa’s interpretation of the word ‘āsana’ is also a comfortable, stable sitting posture for the practice of meditation. But he warns, āsana is not inactivity or indolence or lethargy, instead, it is a journey from inertia to intuition.

शुचौ देशे प्रतिष्ठाप्य स्थिरमासनमात्मनः।

नात्युच्छ्रितं नातिनीचं चैलाजिनकुशोत्तरम्॥गीता ६.११॥

śucau deśe pratiṣṭhāpya sthiramāsanamātmanaḥ

nātyucchritaṁ nātinīcaṁ cailājinakuśottaram॥Gītā 6.11॥

Meaning: A yogi’s place should be hygienic that is neither too high nor too low; and should be covered with kuśa grass, deer-skin, and cloth respectively.

तत्रैकाग्रं मनः कृत्वा यतचित्तेन्द्रियक्रियः।

उपविश्यासने युञ्ज्याद्योगमात्मविशुद्धये॥गीता ६.१२॥

tatraikāgraṁ manaḥ kr̥tvā yatacittendriyakriyaḥ

upaviśyāsane yuñjyādyogamātmaviśuddhaye॥Gītā 6.12॥

Having seated on such a place, he should stop all activities of mind and senses, concentrate the mind on a single point, and practice yoga for self-purification.

समं कायशिरोग्रीवं धारयन्नचलं स्थिरः।

सम्प्रेक्ष्य नासिकाग्रं स्वं दिशश्चानवलोकयन्॥गीता ६.१३॥

samaṁ kāyaśirogrīvaṁ dhārayannacalaṁ sthiraḥ

samprekṣya nāsikāgraṁ svaṁ diśaścānavalokayan॥Gītā 6.13॥

Having stably aligned the body, neck and head, and avoiding gazing around in different directions, (he should) focus on tip of the nose.

Why tip of the nose? Instead of allowing the cow to gaze limitlessly around, fix a peg and tie the cow to the peg with the help of a rope. This would definitely limit her movements.

प्रशान्तात्मा विगतभीर्ब्रह्मचारिव्रते स्थितः।

मनः संयम्य मच्चित्तो युक्त आसीत मत्परः॥गीता ६.१४॥

praśāntātmā vigatabhīrbrahmacārivrate sthitaḥ

manaḥ saṁyamya maccitto yukta āsīta matparaḥ॥gītā 6.14॥

Select a clean piece of land, that is neither too elevated nor too low down, spread ‘Kuśa’ grass, skin of a deer and a piece of cloth (in the same order). On this structure, having ‘seated’ steadfast, mind intently focused, senses withdrawn, yogi should practice yoga for purification of internal faculties. Having back, neck and the head aligned straight and free from movements, focused on tip of the nose, without being distracted around, firmly established in an unyielding vow of continence, being courageous in his approach but with a calm and indrawn mind, the yogi should resolutely be absorbed in Me with an attitude of total surrender of internal faculties unto the ultimate and priceless Me.

The place selected is neither too elevated nor too low down. If the place is too high, there a possibility that sādhaka might go through fear of fall during dhyāna and concentration might suffer. Or another reason could be that the pride of sitting at an elevated place might develop a sense of ego in him. If the place is too low, sādhaka might be distracted due to the menace of moisture, insects, etc. Another reason could be that he should not be losing from inferiority by sitting at such a low down place. Why not sit on bare ground directly? The energy generated during dhyāna might fritter away by dissipating to land. Hence, the three-layered structure of ‘Kuśa’ grass, the skin of a deer and cloth, on which sādhaka sits would give insulation from such dissipation of energy.

It is opined that Patañjali also must have given this definition for a pleasurable/comfortable sitting posture for the practice of meditation (like padmāsana, ardha padmāsana, vajrāsana, vīrāsana, svastikāsana, siddhāsana, siddhayoni). When absorption with Paramātma through purity and profound mediation is the ultimate goal of a yoga sādhaka, Patañjali must not have given undue importance to the physical body. However, āsana is the physical expression of one’s personality and it is a delight to note that, this definition given by Patañjali is excellently extrapolated by modern adept yogis to interpret and to include innumerable kinds of physical postures (like pūrvotthānāsana, mayūrāsana, svastikāsana, vīrahanumānāsana, vīrabhadrāsana, gomukhāsana, bhujangāsana, śīrśāsana, etc) also practiced with a view to correct physical ailments, within the purview of this definition. It is true that the body itself is not a hindrance to enlightenment but the attachment to the body (sensual pleasure) is. This is sādhana śarīra. Anything and everything is possible when one takes care of this instrument of achievements and use this instrument in the desired direction. In this long spiritual journey, where I am a solitary traveller to reach my destination, I should know what is there under the bonnet, so that I can take care of the simple complications if any enroute my journey. In that case, the translation of this sūtra is suitably changed to mean like this: ‘In any yogāsana (not necessarily the meditative postures), the body should be firm and the experience of sādhaka should be pleasurable.’ Thus the scope of the word ‘āsana’ is very wide, that is, to include not only meditational postures but all other kinds of ‘Kriyātmaka Yogāsanas’. Revered Guruji śrī BKS iyengārji says, ‘Though yogāsanas look to be mere physical exercises, in every asana I practice, I reach ‘Peak Point Performance’ (PPP), and I can realize the Infinity in me — that Supreme Eternity in me.’ If one’s whole life is dedicated to art and when practiced devotedly, with awareness anubhava (experience) is gained and in turn, one can realize the Divine in that art itself. That is what a dancer experiences, an artist experiences, an actor experiences, a yogi experiences and so does an āsana practitioner, in PPP. Hence the wellbeing of this physical body cannot be ignored.

A great Vedic scholar wanted to cross over a river. He hired a boat. On his journey, our egoistic Vedic scholar was chatting with the illiterate boatman, who was rowing the boat. The boat had just crossed almost one-fourth of the river. In the course of the chat, the scholar asked the boatman, if he knows the Vedas. The boatman said humbly that he is not aware. The scholar said, ‘Oh, one-fourth of your life is wasted. At least do you know how many Vedas are there?’ Now the boat had crossed nearly half of the river. The boatman answered in negativity. Scholar said, ‘Then, one half of your life is wasted. Do you know any other scriptures?’ Now the boat had crossed almost three fourth of the river. Again the answer to the boatman was negative. Scholar said,’Oh no, three fourth of your life is wasted’. Suddenly the river became turbulent and the boatman could not control the boat. He asked the scholar, ‘paṇḍitji, do you know swimming?’ The panic-ridden scholar answered that he doesn’t know swimming. Boatman said, ‘Oh paṇḍitji, your whole life is wasted; the current is so strong and tumultuous that boat is going to sink now’. Boatman safely swam to the bank, but unfortunately, the scholar drowned.

The diseases can be broadly classified into:

a. Communicable diseases (infectious or contagious diseases)

b. Non-communicable diseases (Systemic problems which are owing to malfunctioning of an organ or a system. Eg. Menstrual problem, enlargement of prostate glands, Hernia, Auto-immune disorders, etc)

Modern medical science has definitely a stronghold on communicable diseases. But it is an utter failure when the question of cure to non-communicable diseases comes (systemic problems owing to stress). On the other hand, yoga is definitely a very effective curative system for non-communicable diseases. This is brought out by yoga through restoring the internal balance by stimulation and followed by deep relaxation of the system.

Modern medical science is so much lost in its internal details and specializations that it has failed to provide us any theory or basis of health. But, Yogāsana one of the limbs of bahiraṅga yoga, as it is concerned with the external (gross) faculties of sādhaka, despite being external, it lays a strong foundation for the next three limbs by gearing him up with full verve and purity. It removes his indolence (inertia) and prepares him for enlightenment. In pūja room, we use different utensils, idols of different Gods, made of metals like bronze, brass, silver, gold, Pañcaloha (Five metals), etc. If one day we do not clean them up, they look dusty. If not cleaned for two days, they look stained. If not cleaned for three days, they look dark and gloomy. Hence, before we start the worship, we clean up all these utensils and the idols, so that they are worthy of worship. So does our body. The latter limbs of yoga (which we discuss in a short while) are called antaraṅgayoga (Internal Yoga involving sādhaka’s consciousness) and are considered to be direct aids to ‘Self-realization’. Dis-ease is a disease and Yogāsana practice would clean up the physical body besides making it disease-free. Then the body is subliminal and fit to practice antaraṅgayoga. Without dehadaṇḍana, manonigraha is not possible or perhaps very difficult. It is understandable why in Gurukulas, the disciples were made to involve in various kinds of dehadaṇḍana and service activities.

śvetāśvatara upaniṣad says,

लघुत्वमारोग्यमलोलुपत्वं वर्णप्रसादं स्वरसौष्ठवं च|

गन्धः शुभो मूत्रपुरीषमल्पं योगप्रवृत्तिं प्रथमां वदन्ति॥२.१३॥

laghutvamārogyamalolupatvaṃ varṇaprasādaṃ svarasauṣṭhavaṃ ca|

gandhaḥ śubho mūtrapurīṣamalpaṃ yogapravṛttiṃ prathamāṃ vadanti॥2.13॥

‘The first signs of a thriving yogi are, lightness of the body, being diseases free, no craving for sensual pleasure, a bright skin tone, a lovable voice, pleasant body odour and excretions in small quantities.’

Thus, never underestimate the importance of yogāsanas for yoga sādhakas.

Careful analysis of Yogāsanas reveals one important aspect. That is, all most all Yogāsanas are spinal column based. That is the importance given by our great yogis to the spinal column. The spinal column is the pillar of our body; thus Yogāsanas (not exercises) improve core flexibility and core strength through deeper stimulation of inner organs. Mother of all nāḍis, suśumnānāḍi runs parallel to the spinal column — right from coccyx to the brain. The base of the suśumnānāḍi is mūlādhāra, where divine spiritual energy called kuṇḍalini is located. By activating this suśumnānāḍi, kuṇḍalini is also activated and is made to move upward to reach sahasrāra, the summit of suśumnānāḍi. This is the goal of Yogāsanas. It is like idol worship. We worship an idol made of metal or stone. The goal is not to realize metal or stone. We see Paramātma through that stone or metal idol. Similarly, in āsana practice also, it is not the end. It is only a means for pariśuddha ātmadarśana for yogasādhakas.

Bhāgavatam says:

मन एकत्र संयुञ्ज्याज्जितश्वासो जितासनः। वैराग्याभ्यासयोगेन ध्रियमाणमतन्द्रितः॥

mana ekatra saṃyujyājjitaśvāso jitāsanaḥ|

vairāgyābhyāsayogena dhriyamāṇamatandritaḥ Bhāgavatam 11.9.11

Through āsana and prāṇāyāma yogi should get mastery over breath and conquer the mind through renunciation and practice. Then, safely guard the same as one’s own goal of life.

What is the difference between other kinds of exercises and yoga? If other kinds of exercises are body-centered, yoga is mind centered. When the mind is the root cause for many of our health disorders, should we not select mind centered sādhana to address our problems? Looking from this angle, one can imagine the effects of yogāsanas on our personality! It is just amazing!! The āsana practice is ‘movement-based contemplation or dhyāna’.



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