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Raja Yoga: Asana

Translation from an article by Endo January 2008

The Aim of Yoga

The Aim of Yoga is to realize the Truth.
— The Universal Gospel Of Yoga

Until I read these words I thought that the aim of life was something each person thinks about for themselves and searches for it accordingly. I was searching very hard for something that could possibly be the aim of my life. Then in the midst of my search, when I came to know Yoga and touched these words of Shri Mahayogi, I had a great shock. The answer for my long time search was there quite clearly, vibrantly. These words, which I had never seen before, captured my heart instantly. Although I did not know what they meant at the time, I distinctly remember feeling that these were great words related to our existence itself. I felt strong admiration and hope.

Control of the Mind

The Universal Gospel of Yoga continues the wisdom and the way to experience it in Yoga: when the mind becomes calm, the Truth is revealed. It is said that our mind constantly moves, acts and is disturbed. So then, how can we control the restless mind?

From ancient times, the practice of raja yoga has taught control of the mind through control of the prana. Prana is translated as ki (energy), and that is the original energy through which entire universes evolve. Our physical body, the mind, the breath, all are made active by prana, and they are closely connected to each other. If we consider our daily life, we can see that when we are excited the breath becomes irregular, and when we are happy, the breath becomes calm. Raja yoga pays attention to this, and attempts to control the mind by controlling the breath. But it is not easy to change the breath from the beginning. Shri Mahayogi uses a simple example: “The mind is wind, the breath is water and the body is ice. They are all H2O. However, it is difficult to catch the wind. Therefore, we control the one that is easiest, the ice or the body, through the practice of asanas. If we do that, the water or the breath, follows the container, and when the breath is controlled, the mind is also controlled.”

Asana means “yogic posture.” Initially, we feel our body get stronger and healthier. In time our breath becomes longer and calmer, and the effect is that gradually the mind is led to a state of calmness.

The Practice of Asana

Shri Mahayogi instructs us to practice asana daily. It is necessary to establish a daily practice in order to change the irregular breathing habits that have developed over a long period of time. But what a really difficult thing to establish “the daily practice!”

It took me some time to establish daily asana practice. I experienced peace of mind as the effect of it, and I understood intellectually that it was a “must.” But as soon as I tried to actually do it, my mind began to complain: “I should take it easy because I am tired today,” or “I am not certain of its effects in daily life.” The mind tries to make reasons in any way possible, and tries to avoid daily asana practice. However, one day I realized that this attitude was not only toward asana, but in every possible aspect of daily life, and that I had been living this way until then. Once I determined not to escape facing myself, I was finally able to cope with the practice of asana. Then I began to establish my daily life in asana practice, and adjust my schedule accordingly. My everyday life, including work and meals, began to change.

Still, it was not easy to sustain this every day. Regardless of my circumstances or conditions, I restrained my mind from wanting to go in the easier or more comfortable direction and forced myself to practice. In the beginning, it was a continuous battle. However, the more I continued to practice, the healthier and lighter my body felt, and the more the teachings of Truth, words from the sacred scriptures that were at first obscure to me, gradually became clearer and went into my heart. Although I have no doubt that this happened through meeting Shri Mahayogi and hearing the teachings various times, I also believe that the daily practice of asana gradually prepared me to be able to listen by stabilizing the breath and the mind. Having actually experienced the effects of asana practice motivated me to move on to the next level. Gradually, as I became familiar with the practice of meditation, my faith began to grow. Though I did not realize it at that time, asana established in me the foundation from which to move toward the Truth.

The Real Meaning of Asana

Some time after establishing a daily practice, planning my schedule around asana practice became relatively easier. Still,Yet, I found that asana was like a mirror that reflected my mind—the variable conditions of the mind were reflected directly in the way I coped with asana practice, in the depth of the breath, or in the degree of concentration. Asana was a constant battle to confront myself and rise above my limit. Doing that required strong will and persistence. I kept asking myself what I truly wanted—not only peace of mind, which was the initial reason for taking the classes, but something further and more precious...I started to will that one day “the realization of the Truth” would become the aim of my life. I continued to practice asana silently, sedulously and regularly, as if to fulfill my duty. It was quite plodding work.

While doing it, there was a period when, because of my physical condition, I could not practice asana. Suddenly, I lost the core of my life and my focus naturally shifted to daily activities. Then I realized that I could not say that I was truly practicing Yoga. As long as I practiced asanas, I felt that I practiced Yoga, but I realized that when I did not practice asanas, my mind was disturbed. Also, when I sat in meditation, concentration was difficult because of the rising of various thoughts. Through this, I understood how the mind and the body had been supported by the practice of asana until then. I felt the keen need to have the proper understanding of the original meaning of asana.

Asana means “sitting pose.” Asana must be strong and comfortable. For this, many asanas have developed. All asanas are solely for this simple sitting pose, even if some look acrobatic.
— The Universal Gospel Of Yoga

The body created by the practice of asana is for sitting in meditation comfortably. I rediscovered the aim of Yoga that I mentioned at the very beginning—Realization of the Truth. I then understood that everything has to be directed only to that. I longed to deepen meditation, heighten passion and consistently see only Truth. The sense of duty that I felt toward the practice of asana became a sense of appreciation for the precious time of sadhana (spiritual practice) for my own sake.

Since then, my asana practice continues. Though I originally began practicing in order to be able to face and challenge myself, my attitude toward the practice shifted to joy and gratitude for Shri Mahayogi’s existence and for his great guidance.

Asana definitely balances the mind and body and prepares us to become ready for meditation, the next step. The greatness of this abundant wisdom can be experienced in anyone through actual practice. Asana is a fully blessed gift from ancient yogis, and from Shri Mahayogi.