By Swami Asokananda

With his unique humor and enormous depth of wisdom, Swami Asokananda is a master in presenting the great teachings of Yoga in ways that are deeply relevant to key issues in modern life. In this article, he shares the benefit of his experience from his personal journey on the mat and in front of a classroom for more than three decades.

There are different intentions that people bring to Hatha Yoga practice. My personal experience has been that asanas lead me into a higher state of awareness. I’m using the body as a portal, or doorway, to connect with my true Self. It’s good to be clear about why I’m doing this practice and to have a stated intention—not that you can’t have multiple intentions. I may want to become more flexible, or I may have some therapeutic things to address, but my main intention is to connect more deeply with my Self. The intention of your practice has an impact. If you start your sadhana with a specific goal in mind, it does help you to reach that end.

The main thing I share with students is that asanas are a journey and to really enjoy and pay attention to each moment of the journey. Don’t wait until you have achieved the pose; move into it as a living, organic experience. Feel every moment and with each breath, feel that there’s a shifting of that experience so there’s no time when you say,  I’ve reached the end of this asana—you are still traveling in the asana.

A part of deepening one’s practice, as we move from a beginners level into a more advanced asana practice, is to look at how we react to resistance we may feel in a posture. If we back away from any sensation that is different and always go to comfort, we don’t find the place where we need to grow. We do get very clear messages from the body and I think we can learn to distinguish between the resistance to going deeper vs.  the body defending itself and contracting because it’s in pain.

I think we have to develop a healthy relationship with our edge. If we rush toward it, the body contracts. If we gently move toward it, breathe and are sensitive to the edge, it will not offer resistance. It’s not about pushing past, but it’s more about respectfully approaching what feels like the limit. If we stop and breathe and gently acclimate to the sensations, we can see if relaxing into the edge takes us any further. The distinction I make is one of pain vs. good discomfort. You should be able to breathe comfortably in any asana. So, that’s the indicator. If you can develop this attunement to your edge, with meditative wakefulness, then your asana practice becomes a living experience and you’ll love it even more.

As my practice has deepened and evolved over the years, I have found it helpful to, once a year or so, find a teacher whom I feel is moving in a direction that feels right to me. Then, I take a workshop or a few classes with that teacher. I think it’s valuable to keep learning and see what others are doing to connect to a higher source. It keeps my practice from becoming stale, and I can learn from that.

The power of asana, for me, starts with paying attention to the physical sensations of my body, honoring the body’s wisdom and practicing with ahimsa and satya. Ahimsa means no violence or harming the body in any way…


Read the rest of this article in the Summer 2010 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.