Usually we approach asana as a means to cure physical or mental pain, to improve fitness or promote health. Asana will never disappoint anyone with these approaches. Slowly we understand that practice of asana involves cultivating stability and ease which later transforms into the calmness of mind. This is a step by step process where one stage clears the path for the next one. Following certain stages in the practice of asana we can systematically transform ourselves and open the doors of inner awakening.
Asana means a state of being in which one can remain physically and mentally steady, calm, quiet and comfortable. In Patañjali’s Yogasutra, there is a concise definition of asana: ‘sthiram sukham asanam’, meaning ‘that position which is comfortable and steady’. So, we can say that yogāsana in this context are practiced to develop the practitioner’s ability to sit comfortably in one position for an extended length of time, as is necessary during meditation.
Therefore, asana are great tool to develop mastery over mind by using our body. Additionally, by practicing asana one gets complete physical health benefits as well. In order to realize the full potential of asana as a tool to develop higher awareness and steadiness, we classify the practice of asana in three stages. These three stages are dependent on one core feature of asana i.e. ‘maintenance’.
While maintaining the asana we go through three stages which are Sthira, Chira, Sukha. After going through these three stages one can easily experience the real essence of sthiram sukham asanam.
- Sthira: sthira means steadiness. In the beginning, while adopting an Asana one feels shaky and finds it difficult to reach the final position. After gradual practice only one can achieve final position and experience some steadiness in posture. However, the duration of maintaining of posture is short. This is the first stage.
- Chira: chira means a length of time. In this second stage the practitioner maintains the posture for a certain length of time by withdrawing the effort involved in the first stage. Mind control begins in this stage. Since the posture becomes effortless there is possibility of mind getting wonder in thoughts. To counter this we focus on the infinite or just vast expansiveness. If one finds ‘focus on the infinite’ too abstract, one can just observe the breath.
- Sukha: sukha means comfort or happiness. When the mind calms down and as it stays in silence and start experiencing the bliss the practitioner enters the third stage called as sukha or comfort while maintaining the Asana. To experience this ‘sukha’ is the secret of Asana and this is the third and final stage.
Let us now summarize all the three stages of asana with their key features.
- Get the movement right
- Grasp the whole asana
- Work for stability within the pose
- Body is under control
- Mind is affected by changes in the body
- Mind touches every part of body (skin, muscle, joint, organ, tissue)
- There is merger. Mind, body & breath become one
- Asana becomes meditative and spiritual. Body is now a vessel to receive the divine