This post is from an article i wrote in 2010- this week our theme was balance so I thought it would be appropriate to share again.
Asana and the Zero Point
In the Mongolian creation myth, the world was created when a wild, male dog mated with a female deer. The wild dog was fierce, powerful and aggressive and the doe was gentle, sensitive and intuitive.
Out of this marriage of opposites limitless love was created. The state of balance precedes the Genesis moment.
Recently, in my Yoga teacher training program, we considered the question What is the purpose of asana? Those things that normally come to mind like strength building, the cultivation of flexibility, weight loss, increasing stamina and endurance, etc. are true, yet these benefits are just a small part of the larger, more profound gifts of asana.
If we look at the name for the practice of asana, pranayama and conscious relaxation, Hatha Yoga, we see balance as the purpose of asana. Ha=Sun and Tha=Moon. Hatha Yoga is to balance the polarities of sun and moon physically, mentally and energetically. As we balance the polar opposites of strength and flexibility, thinking and feeling, doing and nondoing, in breath and out breath, left brain and right brain, sthiram and sukham, prana and apana, pingala and ida, Shiva and Shakti, we set the stage for the greatest goal of Yoga to be experienced, Enlightenment. Enlightenment is the realization of our greatest potential, the state of communion and grace. It is only by the balancing of these polarities that Kundalini Shakti, the great, dormant creative force, awakens and begins Her evolutionary ascent through the chakras.
The moon must be made steady in order for the sun to rise.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika
The moon represents the mind, chitta, and the sun represents energy, prana. In order for Kundalini Shakti to rise, we must bring the mind to a state of harmony and tranquility. Swami Satchidananda tells us that the asanas make the body healthy enough and the mind peaceful enough so that we are able to sit in meditation. Meditation is perhaps the most efficient tool to create a tranquil mind.
The purpose of Hatha Yoga is to give you the knowledge of controlling these two energies: “ha” and “tha” (prana and apana). Without that knowledge it is very difficult to gain that control over the mind which is called Raja Yoga. Raja Yoga deals with the mind, Hatha Yoga works with the prana and apana. Many students make the mistake of considering Hatha Yoga to be mainly asanas, when actually asana is only one of the eight steps of Hatha Yoga. Furthermore, there is no real difference between Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga. There is no possibility of attaining Raja Yoga without the practice of Hatha Yoga and vice versa.
Swami Vishnu Devananda
Seeking balance is the path of the Yogi. The state of balance is like the zero point on the number line. Zero is nestled peacefully between the positive integers and the negative integers that extend infinitely in both directions. It is a state which is both full and empty simultaneously- a state of infinite possibility and pure potential. There is a reason that the model of the 3 main nadis in the body- ida, pingala and sushumna- looks curiously like the double helix of DNA. It is through this apparatus that we create a new reality- a life of meaning and fulfillment. The Genesis act was not a one time, isolated event. Genesis happens all the time for Yogis.
The master Patanjali speaks of balance as the path and the goal of asana.
Asana is a steady, comfortable posture.
Sutra 2.46 translated by Swami Satchidananda
On the mat we seek to harmonize sthira, strength and steadiness in posture, with sukham, comfort and ease. We attempt to balance the world of form, structure and alignment with the world of formlessness, feeling and energy. We journey to the realm of form with external awareness- my foot goes here, my pelvis tilts this way or that- and with focus on structure and alignment in asana. We experience the world of formlessness with breath awareness and internal focus and sensitivity. Magic happens on the mat when the two worlds collide and our practice is illuminated with both form and freedom, structure and shakti.
The most successful yoga teachers I know are those who find balance in instructing asana as well. They are both strict and loving simultaneously.
By lessening the natural tendency for restlessness and by meditating on the infinite, posture is mastered.
Sutra 2.47 translated by Swami Satchidananda
Swami Satchidananda and Patanjali tell us that asana is mastered by meditation on the infinite. The word for infinite is ananta. Ananta is also the archetypal serpent deity on which Lord Vishnu rests. The stories of the deities are to teach us lessons. The story of Ananta is that when Lord Shiva was teaching Parvati yoga asanas they heard a rustling in the jungle. Ananta, the serpent, was discovered eavesdropping on Shiva and Parvati. Lord Shiva was angry with Ananta and told him that his punishment would be to go to the humans and teach them what he had overheard, but Shiva told Ananta that the humans would be frightened of him in his current form so he was also instructed to take human form to teach yoga to humanity. Ananta’s human incarnation was the master Patanjali. Ananta is depicted with the entire material universe balanced perfectly on his head and the divine in the form of Vishnu rests nestled in his lap. Ananta teaches us about balance in life. Yogis are master jugglers. We perform the ultimate balancing act. We move through life performing our material world obligations with the divine sitting in our laps, in the state of grace. Meditation on Ananta also teaches us that sometimes radical transformation is required in order to manifest our greatest potential.
Thereafter, one is undisturbed by dualities.
Sutra 2.48 translated by Swami Satchidananda
The pairs of opposites, the dvandvas, belong to the physical and mental realms. Physically the dvandvas represent hot and cold, hunger and thirst, pleasure and pain, and so on. Mentally, the pairs of opposites are the ever changing emotional states we experience. With mastery of asana, the Yogi finds herself steady in the midst of change. We experience ourselves as larger than the pairs of opposites and find a part of ourselves that is beyond suffering.
In the bigger picture, the pairs of opposites represent the state of duality that makes us believe that we are separate from our source. As we move toward balance, we move from darkness to the light of understanding that union with the divine is possible. In fact, it was there all along.