yoga is not asana - asana is not yoga.
Pranayam means extension of breath, expansion of breath – or vital energy. When somebody dies, it is the Prana which leaves the body, not the oxygen. It is even said, that when people are about to die, this Prana leaves before their death. That’s why, in the ancient India, though this land was very rich in every sense, the prime focus of people was the search of the self: what is my true nature. So in spite of all the richness available, most of the people were in search of the truth. That’s how all these amazing sciences were developed: Mantra, Yoga, Tantra, Pranayam, Astrology, Ayurveda… because of this intense search, people went to different paths, but all arriving at the same point. So that’s why so many different paths got birth in Bhārat (India) where the ultimate point was always the same, to discover the true nature of the Self.
Now as you know, when we talk about Yoga – the actual word योग is not pronounced with an “a” in the end like was propagated in the west… Yoga means Union. Please know that Yoga is not Asana. Yoga is an eight-limb path – Ashtanga Yoga and Asana is only one of the limbs of the Yoga: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi. When you are going to go into a certain spiritual practice, a certain cleaning is necessary – for example if we want to meditate in a room, the first important thing is that we clean the room, then maybe we put a candle or an incense… and then when you practice in that space you realize how different it is than before that cleaning. Sp after applying Yama and Niyama (abstentions and observances) then we are ready for Asana. The word Asana actually means to sit comfortably, without getting exhausted, for longer times, to prepare for the meditation. So, all the Asana that we practice is mainly a preparation for the later stages of Yoga; it is not the ultimate goal – no matter how much you can do this Asana, or that Asana so perfectly… it is simply a stepping stone, it is not the ultimate goal. Unfortunately what has happened in the west is that Yoga became related with Asana, that’s why any Yoga magazine will show just people posing in Asanas, but it is not only that.
Yoga is a state of being – it is not an action, it is not something that you can do. It is a state of Being, meaning: when you do certain things, you arrive to the state of Yoga. So it is a consequence, it is a result of something, that’s why it would be wrong to say, “I do yoga.”
So, one has to start looking at things in the correct perspective – a right understanding, right knowledge, right guidance is very necessary. This is what also the message of my Teacher, Gurudev, was. Otherwise, the knowledge is available, nowadays specially all information is available, too much is available… one has to practically go on a diet of knowledge, because so much information is there! But, how do you find the right things? That’s why, specially in the East, the practice of Satsang (from Sanskrit, to be in the company of a wise one) has been of uttermost significance and importance, because that person share with you what he/she has been through, taking you through the same journey again, through which he/she has been through… but now he/she knows where are the obstacles, where are the hindrances, which is the way to overcome the obstacles, which may be a shortcut. And that is the compassion of a Guru, that he takes you through his journey, it is an action to share his experience that comes out of pure compassion.
That’s why the significance of being with a master is so important. Just recently somebody from America wrote to me, “can we offer your Guru’s teaching through and online-course?” How can you make such a phenomenon available through and online course? Not only there is no interaction, but the whole phenomenon of being in the company and going through different practices and guidance on a day to day basis – all of that would be missed out, it would not be there on a online course. When you are in the presence of a wise one, even if the teacher is not talking something is being transmitted, even when the teacher is silent, something is happening there, the energy is there. These are things beyond words – so it is very, very important to be in, what we know in India as SATSANG – being in the company of an awakened one. SAT means ‘truth,’ SANG means ‘being in the company;’ so, “being in the company of the truth,” because the Guru or the Wise one is who has known the truth.
Coming back to Asana, Asana is the stage which prepares for the next stage, which is Pranayam. Asana is on a certain level, and Pranayam goes to a subtler level of bringing transformation on the physical and psychological level – as well as in the spiritual level. One can simply experience it and observe: sometimes we do a ten minute practice and suddenly the whole energy has changed in us, something changed: the awareness, the presence, the state of being. So Pranayam has that capacity.
Pratyahara comes after Pranayam, which means “Withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects” – it’s like going on a diet: one slowly, slowly starts withdrawing from the things that may be distracting. Then comes Dharana: concentration, being able to focus on something. And then one is ready to sit in meditation: Dhyana. And the final stage of a Yogi is Samadhi (which cannot be done) which is the merging, the awakening, the enlightenment – which happens as a consequence of the meditative state of being, the ultimate. In India, it is said that this last stage does not depend on something, but the Grace: Kripa – the grace of the master, the grace of God, the grace of existence, however you like to call it.
In this context of Grace, there is a beautiful story of Swami Rama, that I would like to share. Swami Rama has been a Yoga Master from India, and there is a story of him from his young age, maybe he was 20 years old, and he had been already with a teacher for almost 15 years. So suddenly one day he went to his Guru, and said, “Guruji, you had told me that around the age of 14 I would get the experience of Satori (a glimpse of the enlightened state) but I completely forgot about it, and now I am 20 years old and it still hasn’t happened, so what’s going on?” So the Guru told him, “you are an idiot, you are not ready for that.” So Swami Rama said, “Ok, I have wasted my time with you because you promised me, so if this is not going to happen, then I should just finish this life.” And since the ashram was close to the river Ganga, Swami Rama said, “I am going to jump in the river, I’m going to finish my life.” So the Guru said, “ok, make sure you tie a big stone with you.” Then Swami Rama really got frustrated and went out of the door of the ashram, and then the Guru said, “Stop! Come here, you idiot…” Then Swami Rama went back and the Guru touched him on the third eye, and in that moment, that experience of Satori happened. So for some time he was in that state, and when he came back from Satori, he went to the Guru, and said, “now I am even more confused because you told me that it would happen when I was 14, so you touched me now and it happened – so was it your touch that did that, or was it all my years of work with you, what was it? Because if it was possible through only the touch, you could have touched me long time ago, why wait for 20 years? …and if my waiting would have done this, then it should have happened earlier, you didn’t need to touch me, so I am really confused.” So the Guru said, “It is none of the two: it is not my touch and it is not your waiting of 20 years – it is the Grace. That Grace has worked to give you this experience.” So all the enlightened ones have said, again and again, that no matter how much you do on your path, there is no guarantee – what is needed is trust and patience, and wait for the Grace to happen if it has to. In the meantime, enjoy the journey! And “enjoying” means, enjoy the ups and the downs – both. My Guru used to say, “either accept both or reject both” but don’t say, “I only want this, and I don’t want this.” If we say yes, we have to say yes to all: the pain and the pleasure – or reject both.
So in any practice, this attitude is very important: enjoy the journey, have no expectations and hurry, and remain patient. In any practice, there should be no focus on the result as such, although these Yogic techniques have immense benefits, but as a practitioner, our focus should not be on the result – like, “I’ve done Pranayam for three weeks but nothing is happening…” then this path is not for you.
Any practice needs time. Osho used to say, “when you pick up a technique to work on yourself, definitely at least do it for three weeks regularly without any break, and then if you feel that it is working for you, do it for three months nonstop.” On this path, all the wise ones say that we need to do something, because not-doing is not our nature; our whole human structure is of ‘doing,’ so it is fine to do, but at the same time not keeping focus on the result. Result may come on its time – and I am not saying this, this was told by Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita about 5000 years ago: just focus on your karma (on your action, on whatever you need to do) but don’t focus on the result.
The text is an extract from the introduction that Manish Vyas gave during one of his courses on Pranayam. Manish is musician, Mantra composer, arranger, producer and singer, teacher, retreat conductor and certified yoga instructor, specialized in Pranayam and Meditation.