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This is the first post in a series called Principles of Asana, looking at how to skillfully apply discernment and wisdom in our poses and in our practice.
Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not stretching. Yoga is not exercise. In short, yoga is not a pose. Despite the fact that yoga is so often represented by a skinny bendy white woman contorting herself on a beach (ahem!), yoga is much more than postural practices.
According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, there are eight limbs to the system of yoga, and asana (postural practice) is only one of the those limbs. It’s not even the first of the limbs. No, Patajali says, if you want to practice yoga, start first with your relationships with other people (Yama). Then address how you are with yourself (Niyama), and then do some poses (Asana) and some breathing (Pranayama).
And this is just the first half of the path towards ultimate realization (Samadhi)!
If you practice yoga simply to stretch your legs, that’s fine (though I’d argue that what you’re doing might not actually be yoga). But if you’re interested in a deeper transformation, this is wildly available. Yoga has the potential to change not just the length of your hamstrings, but also the openness of your heart and the stability of your mind.
The practice includes poses, but the pose is not the practice.