What is Asana and How to Take it From the Mat into Life

Why Mantras and Mudras Matter
February 17, 2019
I did my Yoga Teacher Training at SWAN in 2020
February 18, 2020

In Sanskrit, asana means “seat” or “manner of sitting”. But asanas goes beyond that, actually. Asana means being in and maintaining a stable and comfortable posture. In order to understand this principle, we should apply this definition not just to our practice on the mat, but also into our regular life.

Study the three gunas. When our minds are either too excited (rajas) or too lazy (tamas), we are not applying the properties of yoga properly. We either want to move out of asanas too quickly or get angry when we cannot achieve them. Or we don’t even reach the mat, giving up before we’ve even begun. Rajas and tamas abound and it’s our duty to control them. Through a life with yoga, control isn’t just possible, but it becomes a reality.

The sattvic mind is the mind that we take to the mat. If we are vigilant enough, we can take it off the mat, too. Asana is not just moving the body, but it maintains equanimity, the ultimate goal of the sattvic mind.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

We’ve all felt uncomfortable. Whether it’s talking in from of people, trying something new, meeting someone new, or any variety of asanas, we know what it’s like to be uncomfortable. However, there’s a trick to using that awkward feeling and transforming it into personal gold. By pushing into those uncomfortable feelings, little by little, we move beyond fear and expand growth edges. What does this mean? It means we become something stronger and more flexible than we ever thought possible. When our body becomes flexible, our mind also becomes lighter and more agile, ready for anything that comes our way.

Ease into comfort

Whichever posture grants comfort and stability is asana. Now what is comfort? Only we can define this. This is a very delicate issue. The concept of comfort is very different for different people. Shorten the comfort zone, the more miserable we become. This is because life is vast. But when we are comfortable within a limited sphere our life reflects those limitations. We become miserable when we’re too comfortable. So don’t seek comfort, but let it come to you and understand that obtaining comfort might come by way of being uncomfortable.

Breathe and listen

Imagine we are in a particular asana, one that’s challenging. How do we feel when you are there? There is mind chatter. The mind urges us to give up, to change positions, to quit. However, when we focus on the breath (ujjayi in particular), we move beyond the physical body. This allows the breath to guide us into and through the asana. It offers us a moment to be still and quiet the mind which removes the need to leave the asana. Breathe with intention, listen to the breath. And use that same technique should difficulties or stressful situations arise off the mat. The breath manages and regulates, if you are willing to surrender to its power. Observe how it soothes the soul on and off the mat.

Stillness and mindfulness reap benefits

We are a culture of thinking, of a busy mind and body. Sitting still is hard. And even harder is focusing on one thing at a time. The modern human has layers of distractions. Add to that multi-tasking and over-achievers. It’s easy to see that there is little to no time for stillness or mindfulness practices. Revising the way we live our day to day lives by adding either stillness or mindfulness will increase our ability to be satisfied with life as it is. In meditation or resting postures, we observe thoughts and feelings, then watch them disappear, vanish. We notice that everything is temporary. If we can apply that philosophy to whatever life gives to us, we’ll become calmer, and with time, even wiser.

Try, try, and try again

On the mat, we give our best. Or at least, we try our best. Seeking our best selves feels natural on the mat, but when we step into reality, away from the yoga mat, things can get tricky. We give up easily. We don’t want to let go of bad habits. And we are guilty of negative self-talk. No wonder we struggle with asanas and real life situations.

In realizing our greatness, power, and potential on the mat, we can begin to transfer that same mental space into our real life. Being persistent on and off the mat proves that we are dedicated to a mission, whatever it may be. Whether the goal is to master an asana, achieve professional success, or build something, through persistence we will become what we want. It’s also a way to show the universe that we are devoted to self, even if it means never finishing the journey. The goal is never an outcome or result, but rather what we do along the way.

Value the mind-body connection

We have been created in such a way that our mind and body are in constant communication. We are the coolest technology that exists on this planet. Yet, often, we fail to notice what an amazing relationship the brain and body have. On the mat, we use our brain to dominate the body. We start to regain dominion over thoughts and bodily functions. We empower ourselves through yoga and breathwork. Never does it feel more organic to us than when we’re on the mat. But in our everyday lives, if we can keep in tune with subtle signs from our body, not only do we tap into the links between mind and body, but we begin to see where compassion could be applied. Or where healing is needed.

When hardships surface, pay attention to the relationship between the head and the heard, the brain and the body and listen to the clues. The secret of how to use yoga’s ability to combine and balance rests in being aware.