Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In Which I Speak to the Importance & Primacy of Asanas

Movement is essential for the development of all brain functions: only organisms that move from one location to another require a brain; organisms that are stationary do not.  (Paraphrased by Pat Ogden in Trauma & the Body, 2006, via A User's Guide to the Brain by John J. Ratey, 2002)

This quote is not intended to be metaphorical, though, like anything, it can be read that way.  Rather, it's intended to be quite literal in that it's representative of some of the best and most recent understandings we have of our physical brains.

Of course, I am a Chick who does not believe we ever know what we think we know when it comes to the human body or the larger planet or the universe for that matter.

I think we are, actually, 100% prone to making asses of ourselves with Statements of Certainty.  We won't know we are making asses of ourselves, most likely, as this decree will be pronounced after we are all ashes.  History will, inevitably, make fun of us.


The reason this particular quote seemed important to me was the possible proof it provides in terms of the genius of yoga asanas.

Asanas often are looked down upon by yogis who consider themselves more spiritual than some of us.  Be that as it may, asanas are still important to the Indian culture, the birth place of yoga.

(I will also point out, though, that all this rigmarole over the age of yoga and the "purity" of it is as silly as the same type of arguments in fundamentalist bible squabbles.  Furthermore, yoga is NOT as old as and never will be as old as natural movement, otherwise known as dance.  All forms of formal, structured movement come from this oldest, easiest, most natural movement of all.  As soon as we could stand up, we started pounding drums with our hands and the earth with our feet. But I digress...)

Back to asanas.

Without movement, this quote scientifically asserts, our brains would not be what they are.  Without movement, a toddler would not develop.  There is a reason that walking and talking start to happen at similar moments. (For more of this, see the sources.)

Without brain development, of course, we could never sit in meditation and experience a Self, as illusory as some of us may think that is or not.

There would be no Spiritual Quest without highly functioning brains.

And there would be no highly functioning brains without moving our bodies.  First.

Asanas are never, ever wasted, and though there are more ideal situations, I don't even care if you are doing them in a freaking GYM or in a park with logoed mats.  All I care is that you are doing them.

Really, all I care about is that you are moving that beautiful body in some way that washes that beautiful brain in some freaking joy, because otherwise, we are just swimming in grief and anger in this world.


Rachel @ Suburban Yogini said...

As you probably know, I genuinely believe that in the west, just because of our culture and the way our minds work, without asana we couldn't integrate any of the other limbs of yoga into our practices. So yogis can look down their noses at it if they like but everyone started somewhere!

svasti said...

What is this curious thing you speak of, where some yogis look down upon asana?

I've never heard of such a thing! In fact, I'm not entirely sure how one could even call themselves a yogi without some form of asana practice as well as the other limbs of yoga?!

My teacher has always expounded that an authentic/traditional yoga practice includes what he calls "primacy of the body". We have a body. It is as real as anything else in this dual/non-dual world.

We can not transcend this body or this earthly plane while we are alive. And in fact, if we attain enlightenment while still embodied, we aren't actually anywhere else but here. He even goes so far as to suggest that in death, we aren't anywhere else but here as well - but that's another story!

And we humans are weird. We need asana because we are very good at dis-identifying or incorrectly identifying with our bodies. Mind/body separation is very, very common, especially in the West. And so when our minds don't want to or can't deal with stuff, our body becomes the storage unit for all of that crap.

Asana is the re-connection of the mind and body, as well as the opening of the heart. Without an open heart, the rest of the collective practices known as yoga aren't terribly accessible, nor do they make sense.

Also, it's my understanding (through the teachings I've been given) that asana arose out of observing the way that people and animals move, and from shamanistic traditions (read dance, trance etc). :)

livingabalancedlife said...

"...all I care about is that you are moving that beautiful body in some way that washes that beautiful brain in some freaking joy..."

LOVE that! When I first started my current path of balanced living I was such a slug as far as movement went I challenged myself just to break a sweat three days a week. That baby step led to my current yoga practice and yes, we need that movement as much as water or air! There's a comfort and discipline in those asanas that form a lovely foundation for everything we choose to add to it.

Linda-Sama said...

"What is this curious thing you speak of, where some yogis look down upon asana?"

that was also my question!!

like svasti, I also believe that one would be hard-pressed to call oneself a "yogi" without doing an asana practice. svasti cites her teachings and I can only cite mine from where I study in India (and which Patanjali wrote about): yoga is asana + pranayama + meditation = yoga. As I have heard Sri Desikachar say, anything else is acrobatics.

in reading my current book, The Great Oom, I was surprised to learn that the Vivekananda disdained hatha yoga asanas. he was entirely in his head with jnana yoga or what the author calls "yoga above the neck."

Linda-Sama said...

p.s. I re-read an old blog post and came across this comment by a crazy old yogini: ;)

"practice itself is the vehicle of enlightenment. there are those rare among us who instantly become self-realized, but for the rest, it takes work.

I've heard the Dalai Lama say that westerners think too much, we are always lost in thought. a daily diet of words stirs up the mind, which in and of itself is not necessarily bad. but there is the risk that students will practice with their brains instead of their guts and thereby become enmeshed in the dharma instead of liberated by it."

Christine Claire Reed said...

Linda, Yes. I read too much of yogis who put meditation way above asana, so I like your "equation."

Also I LOVE what the Dalai Lama has to say of this. Of course. :) said...

All I know is, Things Do Not Go Well for me if I don't move. Every day.
I hurt, I get cranky, my brain gets all fuzzy. It's not pretty.
Arguments for and against asana aside (and you already know my feelings on that) moving is living.

And living is moving. Flowing, pumping, pedalling, dancing.