Stretch of Yoga: Stretch of the mind from Asat to Sat

Mention yoga and the first thing that comes to mind is somebody standing on their head or twisted like a pretzel. And you are not wrong at all. The practice of yoga does involve a fair amount of stretching, twisting and turning besides building strength, balance and coordination. Now comes the question, what are we stretching? At first glance, the answer seems obvious, the body of course! But is that all yoga is? Have we limited our understanding of yoga to only stretching the body? Sadly, that is what it has come to in many parts of the world. Yoga originated in the forests and caves of the Himalayas through years of exploration and meditation by our rishis. Today as I write this, yoga has become a global movement and our beloved Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lead the International Yoga Day celebrations at the United Nations Headquarters, New York alongside thousands of other dignitaries from across the globe. But along with its tremendous popularity and appeal, it has also become diluted in its understanding and practice and been reduced to a stretch.

So today, on this auspicious day of International Yoga Day, I offer you another perspective of yoga, as a practice to stretch your mind to include the timeless wisdom teachings of our scriptures.

The asat is that when we look at our bodies, we limit our understanding of the body to a shape. And then we go on to build our identity around it; I am fat, I am thin, I am dark, I am tall, I am short etc. And if the yoga practice is done on a purely physical level; can I touch my toes? can I balance on my head? it sadly just continues to fuel this judgmental attitude by falsely identifying and obsessing; I am tight, I am stiff etc. This identification with the shape of the body is so deep-rooted that we define ourselves, build our fragile self-worth or tear it down based on that. So, is that all our body is? A shape? What is our essence?

Our Sat, our truth, is that we exist. And through our asana practice, a good teacher can educate and guide us that asana is not just about stretching but the opportunity to take a deeper look into the shape through an experiential insightful seeing (swadhyaya). We understand then, that shape is a notion, an idea that does not even survive the scrutiny of a microscope as everything seemingly solid, like the body, dissolves under its lens. We realize all that exists, Sat, is energy, shakti and we humbly acknowledge the presence of a guiding, intelligent energy, a presence, an auspiciousness Ishwara.

Though in our asana and pranayama practice it appears that we are working with our arms, legs, abdomen, breath etc. what we are really working with is shakti, energy. And through these practices we work on releasing not just blocked energy but the blocked vision of our essence as well. Engaging the bandhas (energy locks) enables us to draw energy that is dissipated and scattered to central energy channel (sushumna) of the body facilitating the rising of our energy and potentiality.

So, the next time in your asana practice you draw your arms back, instead of measuring how high the arms are or how far back they can go, shift your attention and be curious about the energy and intelligence that moves your arms. Namaste.

Shailaja Menon is the student of Guru Manoj Kaimal and has been teaching yoga for the last 24 years. She is the author of “Yoga Shakti” Awaken Your Own Power which is available on Amazon India. Her ability to translate the practice of yoga from mere shapes on a mat to a living, breathing philosophy and way of life is what makes her classes, writings and perspectives so insightful.