The Process of Asana

The yogic tradition is rich in methods and techniques.  It is important to remember that the techniques are a means to a much greater end, the complete physical, mental and spiritual integration of the human being.  It is equally important to recognize the moment to moment process of transformation that arises within the application of these various methods.  As we pay close attention to our breath or the sensations within a posture, we gain insight into the nature of our own experience.  From this perspective the path is the destination.

What we call life is already existent inside of us.  The various means, including asana, are a way to explore that inner reality that we live with on a day to day basis.  While the postures and breathing practices may initially appear quite foreign, they draw upon what is most available, namely our breath our body and our mind.  All of the postures and other related practices give us a way to explore the phenomenon of the body and re-pattern it in ways that are much more conducive to deeper states of realization.

This process of re-patterning is what we call transformation.  What the practices give us the opportunity to consciously transform our breath-body-mind, in essence our lives, on multiple levels; physically, mentally, spiritually.  That is one of the reasons people experience such deep currents of change once they start practicing.  Yoga consists of moment to moment dedicated attention to the practices and the ultimate realization of our deepest nature…  Everything in-between is called life!

The Bottom of the Ice Berg

I remember taking a yoga class at my University back in the early 90’s.  The teacher was quite patient, knowledgeable and dedicated.  Somewhere about mid-quarter I remember her saying “asana was a very small part of yoga practice, just the tip of the iceberg.”  She really emphasized the smallness of the asana practice, as though we really had no idea of what we were actually studying.

At first I wrestled with her statement. If the result of asana practice felt so wonderful and transformative how could that be only a small fraction of the practice?  How could you top that?  I took her statement to mean that asana’s were one among many different methods used that could make me feel special or high.

“Tell me the Other Methods!” I mused.

I don’t think that is really what she had in mind.  After years of my own exploration and inquiry into yoga practice I now understand her statement quite differently.

Technically speaking, the term “asana” or posture is quite separate from the word “yoga” which means to join or unite.  Yoga is union of individualized consciousness with Universal Consciousness –the bottom of the iceberg that resides below the surface of our awareness.  Yoga is the conscious union of these two interrelated aspects of ourselves into a seamless whole.  Wholeness arises in the absence of fragmentation.

Often times the term asana is used interchangeable with the term yoga, as though they are the same thing –which they are not.  The classical purpose of asana is to support the greater process of yoga and not the other way around.

The postures are a means unto an end. They are a method by which we can gain insight into Yoga.  All of the euphoric feelings I had associated with the postures were really a by-product of the greater process of yoga.  They were an individual (and very important) part of a much deeper transformation.

How the postures relate to the process of yoga will be the subject of our next post!

The Self

There are many facets to the yoga tradition. Some systems of yoga focus on the purification of the physical body, others focus on cultivation of love and still others focus on the development of knowledge through the study and application of scriptural texts.  These different approaches are intended to suite the varying natures of the practitioners.

The common aim of these systems is to free the aspirant of a contracted and inherently limited sense of identity and reveal their deepest essence, their original face or universal existence.  These are among many terms that attempt to describe this vast and imperishable being.

The yoga tradition uses the word “Atman” to indicate that spiritual identity.  Atman is often translated as the “Self” (with a capital S.)  This is equivalent to the Western notion of the Soul.  Unlike our Western idea of the Soul, the Atman is attributless.

It does not yearn for anything, nor feel compelled to express it-Self in the world in anyway.  It is complete unto itself.  It needs nothing to validate its existence because it is existence itself.  It is the substratum that pervades the entire creation and simultaneously is apart from all manifestation.

In the words of the Kena Upanishad:
That which makes you draw breath but cannot be
Drawn by your breath, that is the Self indeed.
This Self is not someone other than you.

From the yogic perspective, we all suffer from a profound state of mistaken identity.  We tend to think of our-self in terms of our relationship to objects, our body and thoughts.  The ancient Upanishads tell us tell us that all this things are transitory and therefore contain no essential identity.

The atman on the other hand, is the essence of our being, the ground upon which we stand, the most refined spiritual dimension.  The practices of yoga then, are designed to loosen the obstructions that vail our most fundamental nature, the Self.  This, is the utmost goal of yoga.

Literary Yoga

Yoga is an epic subject and much has been written about it.  The literary tradition surrounding the subject goes back to ancient Sanskrit texts from India and more recently has found its way into the glossy folds of magazines, best selling books and most immediately, this blog.

The yoga tradition is buried within age old questions about life, our purpose within it, the human condition and how to find lasting happiness.  Philosophers throughout the ages have wrestled with these questions, debated with one another and passed their illuminated insights on to the next generation who further experimented with and refined the process.

The chronicles of their discoveries can be found in age-old texts that were originally composed in an oral format for generations before they were ever written down.  These early and unanimous authors used metaphor, symbolism, logic, poetry and many other styles to deliver their timeless message.

Coupled with this narrative was an equal emphasis on methods and techniques that the reader/practitioner could use to elevate their consciousness enough to perceive the deeper dimensions of reality which the scriptures professed.

However the prose or the diversity of descriptions the ultimate purpose of these texts is to transform us, to free us from the constraints of our own limited perception, open up a deeper dimension of our being and find lasting peace.

Transition from Denver Institute of Yoga to Axis Yoga Trainings

Welcome to our newly minted website and blog H.Q. This marks the culmination of a long process of transformation from our former identity as Denver Institute of Yoga (DIY) to our current title Axis Yoga Trainings. Why the change? There are several reasons actually.

The Institute was founded in 2003 with the intention of providing Denver residents with a rich immersion into classical practices of yoga. The program was an immediate success. We operated independent for the small handful of studios that existed at that time, renting space from a local dance studio as we continue to do so today. The word “Institute” in our name proved to be confusing because there was no formal Institute/Space for ongoing classes or visitation.

After a long process of considering new titles, a number of which were in Sanskrit, we finally settled on “Axis Yoga Trainings.” It was more concise and descriptive. The term axis is in reference to the central axis of the body, which all of the asanas orient around. The deep core of the body is both mysterious and illuminating.

I remember speaking with one of our Instructors, Kim Johnson, about the change in name. It was a late winter’s day and her delivery was concise and to the point…

“When you change the name of an entity you change its destiny.

With that she walked away and I knew that the school now had a renewed life of its own.