The Principles of Asana Practice
“In our practice we concentrate on the body, the breath, and the mind. Our senses are included as part of the mind. Although it theoretically appears possible for body, breath, and mind to work independent of one another, the purpose of yoga is to unify their actions. It is primarily the physical aspect of our practice that people see as yoga. They will rarely notice how we breathe, how we feel the breath, and how we coordinate our breathing with our physical movement; they tend to only see our flexibility and suppleness. Some may want to know how many asanas we have mastered or how many minutes we can stay in a headstand. Much more important than these outer manifestations is the way we feel the postures and the breath.
What is asana? Asana translates as “posture.” The word is derived from the Sanskrit root as which means “to stay,” “to be,” “to sit,” or “to be established in a particular position.” Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra describes an asana as having two important qualities: sthira and sukha. Sthira is steadiness and alertness. Sukha refers to the ability to remain comfortable in a posture. Both qualities should be present to the same degree when practicing any posture. Neither sukha nor sthira are present when we sit with crossed legs for a photograph if we have to stretch them out again immediately afterward because they are hurting. Even if we achieve the steadiness and alertness of sthira there must also be the comfort and lightness of sukha, and both must be present for a certain length of time. Without both these qualities there is no asana. This principle of yoga is fulfilled only when we have practiced a particular asana for a certain period of time and feel alert and unstressed as we practice it.” (Desikachar 1995, 17-18)