Anyone who marches on the path of asana practice, or the practice of yoga postures or poses – feels that there is something special about this practice, something that affects our entire being on all levels and brings tremendous joy and contentment. So why don’t other sports and activities have the same effects that asana practice has? This short article is one answer to this question.
Asana practice requires mindfulness
Yoga asanas or postures – as practiced in the Iyengar method involve the performance of a large variety of movements and actions which are intricate and not easy to learn. Compare this with activities like jogging, cycling, or swimming. These are very positive and healthy activities, but the actions one performs are repetitive and mechanical – once you learn to cycle, your body knows how to do that and you don’t need to think about what and how you do it – you just repeat the same actions, over and over again, developing only a limited number of muscle groups.
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Asana practice differs as it involves the activation of many muscles in a coordinated manner. When practicing asanas you must be attentive and think about what you do, so the effect is bringing the mind and body together. Coordinating many actions requires communication between various capacities, for example, breathing, focusing, observing, and adjusting. One becomes totally absorbed in this process. Coordination leads to communication which in turn leads to communion. There is an orchestration of actions that becomes more and more harmonious as one continues to practice and refine.
This kind of skillful activity has deep effects on the mind and body. You need to fine-tune the actions you do. This requires observation and sensitivity. Swimming and running – with all the benefits they definitely have – do not require the practitioner to fully engage the depth of their sensitivity and intelligence in the performance of their sport. Whereas asanas – when done mindfully, have the potential to educate you on many levels and to improve your sensitivity, sense of proportion, quality of judgment, and so on. Asana practice can enhance your intelligence in the deepest sense of the word (not the IQ measure). It will also give you more joy and peace – but this is a topic for another discussion.