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This article was contributed by writer and yoga instructor, Sarah Pachelli.
PANTAJALI’S EIGHT-LIMBED PATH TO YOGA
We live in a Western society of go-go-go. Everyone is in a rush; everyone wants to be thin; everyone wants the newest (and shortest!) path to enlightenment, if only to have something to say over a cigarette and a cocktail at a steakhouse. We want our fitness wrapped in fashion and our religion externally indicated with a red ribbon around our wrist. We don’t have time to meditate all day because we have laundry to pick up and dinner parties to prepare. Even if not completely bombarded by being busy, anxiety has infected our society so grossly that we don’t know how to relax and, if given the opportunity, we scoff at and dismiss it.
Asana has become synonymous with yoga when, really, yoga is so much more than movement. But who has time to look inward when the ass in the mirror is protruding too far outward? We need some sort of reprogramming, which is is a tedious — albeit tremendously rewarding — process.
According to The Yoga Sutras of Pantajali, asana is only one-eighth of yoga. Its objective is to fatigue our bodies so they become more useful vessels for meditation. Granted, there is something seductive about the svelte, but there is something so much more everlasting about samadhi (or, enlightenment). To learn about Pantajali’s eight-limbed path to yoga is to understand that our true self is not the body in which we currently inhabit. Approaching yoga only in terms of asana completely denies yoga’s overarching objective of transcendence. Long limbs is a by-product of transcendence. (The irony, of course, is that when one really transcends, one couldn’t care less about the physical body’s visceral tenacity.)
I’m not suggesting disregarding asana. I’m the type (A) of person who needs to wiggle in order to be still. I needed years of movement to equip my body with the tools of stillness. Only then did I begin to love the beginning and end of my yoga practice. Before that, I used to drift off in those moments of class when I was supposed to be “concentrating on my breath” and think about breakfast or laundry or my current crush. It wasn’t until I started mediating a few years ago that I appreciated the more subtle aspects of yoga. Thus, without the transgressions of flow I would’ve never been able to sit stationary for twenty minutes, two times a day, every single day.
Bottom line: asana is fun. It’s great to sweat and contort and explore all the different manifestations of the body. But instead of defining yoga by movement, try viewing asana as one very important aspect of a complete and compassionate yogic life.