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Why do we practice asanas ?

The simple answer is that we all practice asana for our own personal reasons. Some may practice purely for physical reasons, others as a foundation to build their spiritual practice upon. It seems common that most practitioners begin to do less asana as they age. This seems to be a purely personal choice as well. Mr Iyengar was still practicing 20-minute headstands when he passed at the age of 95. One of his many famous quotes was, "It is through the alignment of my body, that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self and intellegence." Pathabi Jois died at the age of 93, he hadn't practiced asana for many years before his death. Krishnamacharya was also practicing asana until his final days, and he lived until 100 years of age.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (a medieval source of yoga knowledge) states - "In order to purify the mind, it is necessary for the body as a whole to undergo a process of absolute purification. Hatha yoga is also known as the science of purification, not just one type of purification but six types. The body has to be cleaned in six different ways for six different impurities. When you clear the body of these impurities, the nadis function and the energy blocks are released. Then the energies move like wave frequencies throughout the channels within the physical structure, moving right up to the brain."

"Asana is the first part of Hatha yoga. In raja yoga, asana refers to the sitting position, but in hatha yoga it means something else. Asana is a specific position which opens the energy channels and psychic centres. Hatha yoga is a process through which purification and control of the body take place by restructuring the pranic flows. The hatha yogis also found that by developing control of the body through asana, the mind is controlled. Therefore, asana practice is foremost in hatha yoga. When you practice asana, steadiness develops. Prana moves freely, and there is less chance of disease occurring. Just as stagnant water is a breeding ground for all sorts of creatures, when prana stagnates anywhere in the body, conditions are perfect for bacteria to flourish; prana should move like swift flowing water."

Light On Yoga by BKS Iyengar - "Asana brings steadiness, health and lightness of limb. A steady and pleasant posture produces mental equilibrium and prevents fickleness of mind. Asanas are not merely gymnastic exercises; they are postures. To perform them one needs a clean airy place, a blanket and determination, while for other systems of physical training one needs large playing fields and costly equipment. Asanas can be done alone, as the limbs of the body provide the necessary weights and counter-weights. By practising them one develops agility, balance, endurance and great vitality.

Asanas have been evolved over the centuries so as to exercise every muscle, nerve and gland in the body. They secure a fine physique, which is strong and elastic without being muscle-bound and they keep the body free from disease. They reduce fatigue and soothe the nerves. But their real importance lies in the way they train and discipline the mind."

I can only speak for my reasons and that is, that when I practice asana my whole being is more stable. My practice has been going on for over ten years now, so I barely remember what life pre-yoga was like. I do remember being a lot more short-tempered, a lot more stressed and life seemed much more challenging. By starting a regular asana practice I found more time in my responses and life in general. You get out of your head and into your body. It's a much different experience to playing a sport, I played a lot of sports throughout my life but I didn't ever experience the same feeling as asana practice. I immediately felt a spiritual aspect to asana practice, it felt deep. It's possibly not the case for everyone. Once I tasted this experience I knew that I had to go deeper and explore further. One of the main differences that I find between sport and asana practice is sport is based on competition. Asana is a vehicle to delve deep within your personality and consciousness, this is a much different experience.

After five years I then began to seek out pranayama and meditation. So it's safe to say that asana is my foundation for spiritual practice.

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