It has taken me 20 years and then some to realize that there is no headstand, best-selling yoga book, or weekend retreat that is going to do for me what going to my meditation cushion for a few moments of silence every single day can do. It’s also taken me many years of practice to fully realize that yoga is about more than strength, flexibility, and balance. Yoga really reveals its potency to me when I find myself being less reactive, more relaxed, and willing to accept everything in life as opportunities to grow, learn, and serve.
That being said, I do enjoy the “high” of mastering a new pose, and I am not suggesting that any of us stop aspiring in asana practice. I say, go for it! Master that big backbend, tricky standing pose, or fancy arm balance! But what I hope for you is that you recognize that you are the very essence of these cool poses: the expansiveness of urdhva dhanurasana (upward bow pose), the stability and groundedness of vrksanana (tree pose), the strength and power of pincha mayurasana, and you are also the steady simplicity of sukhasana (easy seated pose). You see, we must be careful not to distract ourselves from the reason yoga asanas ever came to be. There is a tendency to focus one’s attention on the “goal” of accomplishing a pose or having completed a practice, but the true and lasting benefits of yoga come from the ways in which it trains us to access power, peacefulness. and strength everywhere—on and off the mat.
It’s quite simple, really. Yoga didn’t come to be for the reasons many of us practice today. Yoga wasn’t originally intended to manage low back pain, improve posture, or prepare you for eka pada chakrasana (one-legged wheel pose). Not so much. The postures came from and through a longing to be one with the divine, not to prepare us to master anything physical. Not really. All those poses through which you flow, and grow, and move on your mat, they came here to prepare you to do one thing—sit, that's it.
There’s a story that might help drive this home for you. You know Shiva? The God of Destruction, as he is commonly called. He is known to be seriously powerful and the most skilled of all warriors. He is strong, destructive, and a cosmic force in the universe not to be messed with. Shiva is also known for embodying the quality of transformation, and is often depicted holding a damru (drum) whose sound symbolizes the manifestation of the cosmos and everything in it. As he plays his drum, his music (coming forth from the damru as the sound “om”) brings entire galaxies and all of their contents into form. And you know one of the favorite poses this powerful warrior likes to assume? His favorite “dwelling” or “state of being”? Sukhasana, simple seated posture. This is his favorite pose for it is the place from which he enters his beloved, deep meditation.
Sukhasana! Seriously? This powerful warrior? He prefers to sit? No fire starting. No big battle-fighting. No whipping his weapons around. Just sitting there, in a simple, seated, criss-cross-apple-sauce pose? That’s it?
One rendition of the story tells of Parvati (his wife) being a little bored because Shiva was always just sitting there, in a state of samadhi (enlightenment). Unable to bear the silence, she called, “Oh Lord!” Shiva did not respond. She said, “Shiva! I must ask you a question.” Again, Shiva didn’t move. Parvati stood watching him for a long time (maybe hundreds of years) until eventually Shiva opened his eyes. Parvati, having settled into silence herself, bowed down with devotion to Shiva and said, “Shiva, your devotees meditate upon you, everyone is praying TO you, meditating upon YOU, upon whom are YOU meditating?” Shiva replied, “I meditate upon the all-pervading oneness of all that is.” So you see, yogis? The posture from which the universe was meditated upon and made manifest is quite simple: sukhasana, simple seated pose.
So the next time you find yourself pushing in your practice, using your asana as your fitness modality designed to carry you to the accomplishment of your next big goal or yoga challenge, consider the power of your practice to prepare your body to sit as well. Consider how asana conditions the nervous system to be actively calm and calmly active—which can then be the place from which you make great decisions, cultivate compassion, create works of beauty, and skillfully promote that which you are more passionate about. And with the most subtle of shifts in the way you view your practice, you can find the stillness that exists within the vinyasa, the steadiness within a one-legged balance, and full-on freedom in the most simple of mat practices. After all, according to early yogic scriptures such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, asana came to us to teach us how to control the challenges and distractions of living in a human body.
Yoga came to us, to teach us to be steadfast and to learn how to be still, so we can hear the voice of the all-pervading One, humming within. It came to us to allow us to sit. That’s it. And THAT is everything.