A sacred temple must be maintained. If it isn’t, it’s no longer sacred, since it’s precisely the acts of attention and care that make a space so. If left to sit unattended, the inevitable decay and disrepair take over. Order returns to chaos, the great rule of life. And as with temples, so with bodies.
Yoga offers us ways to not only maintain our temple-bodies, but to create an optimal setting for life force (prana) to awaken. Prana allows us to navigate our lives with clarity, enlivens devotion, and creates a powerful space for recognizing our true nature.
While it wasn’t the text’s focus, Patanjali’s yoga sutras gave attention to the physical body and its ability to create a steady, ease-filled, joyful seat (STHIRA SUKHAM ASANAM). This can be the “seat” of our heart/mind connection, the literal seat during meditation, or the position we take when interacting with the world, amidst the endeavors of waking up, wringing out, opening up… and all that we get up to in a day.
Most of you reading this will have come to yoga through the physical practices, through asana. This is what is often presented as the whole of “yoga” in the West. But I’m hardly upset that the body is the gateway into the larger practice for so many. After all, how amazing to arrive someplace for an external self-improvement project and then slowly wake up forgotten or generally unattended-to muscles, bones, facia, organs, neural networks. This waking-up can allow us more intimacy with “self,” and therefore, with the world around us.
The physical practice is where I’ve watched the thrashing of my mind and the grasping of my ego.
It’s where I’ve felt the daily battle I wage with my own body melt and get replaced by a desire to feel aligned in all aspects of my being.
In the asanas we place ourselves into warrior stances; we humble ourselves in full-bodied prostrations on the floor; we twist into our internal organs; we salutations to our sources of light; we mimic (and honor) frogs, crows, camels, snakes, fish and so many other species we cohabitate this planet with. And within all that effort, the gift is to find the point of surrender. Hopefully we discover an equal measure of effort and surrender, the still point at the threshold between them.
This on-the-mat experience prepares us, again and again, for our encounters with what’s off the mat: finding the still point between raga and dvesha, likes and dislikes.
So while it’s not the whole package, physical asana takes a mighty seat (yeah, pun intended) at the table of yoga. It’s through our bodies that we experience the world around us; and it’s only within these bodies that we can learn the lessons we are meant to learn in this lifetime. We can’t escape embodiedness if we hope to go on living, learning, and loving. So we turn to them with curiosity, give them attention, keep them tuned and alert so they can guide us well along this path.
Even though I came to yoga through meditation, it was through the body that I tapped into the full spectrum of the principles of this practice, the living question of how to gather up effort and melt it into surrender simultaneously. The body will come and go, and in the space between, it is guaranteed to change. In my thirty-plus years of this practice, I am a living example of its changing nature—which makes my time with it all the more potent.
It’s a sacred thing you get to move through this world in this body, this very one that sits here reading this. Care for it with full hearted attention.