Definitions of āsana, Part 1
The root of the word āsana comes from the sanskrit root, ās. This can mean, “being or becoming.” If āsana is rooted in being and becoming, what does that tell us about what we are practicing? How does this context and this definition give us guidance for our practice? This is a big topic to kick off our series, but this idea is the container in which all of our other definitions exist, so it is a good place to begin.
When I think about ‘being,’ it feels simple. An apple can be an apple, but it can’t be an orange. Even those weird apples that were at our grocery store a few years ago that had been injected with an artificial grape flavor were still apples. A rotten apple? Still being apple. Apple juice? Still being apple. Being is basic and essential. The things that were true about my being when I was an infant are true about me now. No matter how we dress it up, how it ails, ages, or changes, we are being until the end.
Becoming is happening at every moment. What we do and the experiences we have inform our next ones. If we are doing the same things over and over again, then we are becoming the person who acts and reacts in the same way we always have. If, instead, we have different experiences, then we are becoming a ‘different person’. We can react and respond to things in a fresh way. This is one of the most hopeful ideas in all of yoga. Becoming is continually happening. That means we can help to create who we are becoming by choosing and participating in experiences that generate the kinds of feelings we want more of.
Āsana is one of the experiences where we can practice being who and how we want to be. Do we want to be more accepting of our struggles? We can practice acceptance in āsana. Do we want to have more peace and calm? We can practice āsana in a peaceful and calm way. When our teacher recognizes a pattern of tension, straining, or distraction is present in our practice, they might help us to see that and encourage a better way of practicing.
Daily āsana practice is an experience that can shape the moments that follow, and repeated regularly, it has the potential to shape the way we live out life. With breath and movement (and sometimes sound and intention) as our tools, āsana invites us to become increasingly present and conscious. This definition reminds us that āsana is doing something to us, and it invites us to experience something of our essential nature. You and I are invited to become who we are.