Beyond Asana Blog
My weekly blog is a forum for contemplative inquiry into the intersection of yoga practice, traditional teachings, and real life.
I know Supta Virasana may not be everyone’s idea of a heroic pose, but it is to me. Over the years, practicing it has become like spending time with a dear, old friend - someone I trust enough to be fully vulnerable and open.
The process begins the moment my props are set up. Getting into Supta Virasana can’t be rushed. I kneel on the mat to adjust my shins, ankles, and feet, and carefully sit back between my heels.
With my pelvis heavy and well-grounded, I lie back gingerly, staying quiet and attentive to place myself well. There’s a lot to consider. I’m mindful to lengthen, not shorten, my lower back; to keep my thighbones down, rather...
You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other.
---Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching
Isn’t this a wonderful image to describe the vantage point we gain in yoga?
We ascend to a more expansive vista within our minds. There, we can observe ourselves and the contours of our lives with the freedom afforded by a broader vision and a healthy bit of detachment.
Meditation isn’t necessarily about quieting your mind; it’s about developing a new relationship with your mind. That’s what the view from the mountaintop is, a perspective that’s bigger than what our minds...
Some teachers will tell you that yoga is not a path toward a goal, but that it is simply about being present to what is.
I partially agree with this. Certainly, yoga is a way of being with ourselves, a practice of inner attention, a way of seeing and responding to ‘what is’ with a stance of compassion and unconditional self-acceptance. But it’s not only that.
Yoga is also a process of becoming. It is a path we travel. Yoga sets us on a clear trajectory of inner evolution that leads to greater freedom, deeper purpose, and expanded consciousness in every part of our lives.
Yoga has always had a goal. And that goal is...
Isn’t it fascinating to consider the paradoxical nature of asana as a practice of spiritual well-being? Through the body, in the body, and using the body, we seek something beyond the body.
I recently received an email from a new student who wrote:
I am looking forward to classes that can remind me what it is all about...
Have you ever gotten so caught up in the what of your yoga practice that you lost sight of the why? I sure have.
I remember once demonstrating a deep backbend in front of hundreds of people at an Anusara Yoga workshop. In that captivating atmosphere of being applauded by my peers, there’s no question I was...
A few days before my Yoga for Turbulent Times workshop last Saturday, a participant sent me an email that read:
I am finding it hard to give myself permission to be joyful or happy in these times. My purpose is to radiate positivity and contentment in myself and others. This is challenging, to say the least, in these days of war, unrest, and climate calamity.
It reminded me of a recent New Yorker cartoon where a doctor is examining a patient and concludes: “Here’s your problem – it looks like you’re paying attention to what’s going on.”
I get it. It can be hard, even guilt inducing, to give yourself permission to be happy...
What’s your idea of happiness? Is it collapsing on the couch with some Netflix-and-chill at the end of a long week? The pleasure of enjoying your favorite morning beverage? The peace you experience after a good meditation? All of the above? None of the above?
Happiness is a tricky concept because it is so subjective and it is often used as a general, overarching term to describe a whole range of pleasurable feelings we might experience.
The yoga tradition describes three different types of happiness. These three types are based on the gunas, the three primal qualities of matter that constitute the material world.
Tamas is the principle of inertia and...
In indigenous ways of knowing, we understand a thing only when we understand it with all four aspects of our Being – mind, body, emotion, and Spirit.
—Greg Cajete, as quoted in Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
The indigenous view on the holistic nature of knowledge very much resonates with the yogic notion of knowledge.
Jnana, the Sanskrit word for knowledge, isn’t only about understanding something intellectually, it’s about knowing it through your own direct experience. Therefore, it involves more than just the mind. Knowledge in yoga is a cognitive experience that involves your whole being - body, mind, emotions, and...
I believe that going deeper in your yoga practice isn’t always about doing more or working harder. It’s about getting more bandwidth out of everything you are already doing.
I’m terrible at taking care of houseplants. When I do get around to watering them, the soil is sometimes so parched and dry that the water isn’t absorbed. It just runs off the surface.
I think this is a good analogy for trying to go deeper in your yoga practice only by doing more and more asana. If the ground of your mind and heart aren’t prepared to receive and integrate a deeper experience, all that effort remains on the surface of the physical body. It doesn’t...
When I tell new students that I have a love/hate relationship with some of the poses I regularly practice and teach, they often breathe a sigh of relief. After all, the challenge of learning how to put your body into new and unusual shapes isn’t necessarily pleasant, so it’s comforting to know that even someone who has been doing yoga regularly for 30 years doesn’t always enjoy it.
For example, I don’t like holding Warrior 2 for 1 minute. I still do it sometimes though, because I know that my achy hip will feel better afterward, that my mind will be sharper when I get back to work, and that my energy will be more vibrant for the rest of...
One of the first things I teach students is that the term yoga refers both to a state and to the practices that lead you toward that state.
The idea that the journey is the destination might sound like a new-age platitude, but it’s there right from the beginning of the tradition.
I want people who are new to yoga to understand that yoga isn’t some lofty goal that they'll achieve one day when they finally nail a handstand.
It’s something that you practice from the minute you roll out the mat out to the final bow of your head at the end of a session.
Yoga includes, and perhaps is characterized by, the mindset that’s cultivated...