Fitness Magazine

Why "Just Asana" is More Than Just Asana

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Sandy

The Joy of Life by Henri Matisse

Recently I had a lovely long Zoom catch up with a friend and fellow yoga teacher. We had a wide-ranging conversation, which included some discussion of the challenges of teaching yoga remotely and various other current events in the yoga world. In connection with this, my friend mentioned that she had deeply appreciated hearing another teacher in a podcast interview say, “I’m pretty sure that what I teach is asana.”

What this teacher meant is that she sees herself as a dedicated asana teacher, rather than someone who guides students through all the limbs of yoga—something to which there are many approaches but which, as YFHA readers know, always goes far beyond the physical practices of Hatha Yoga. My friend and I both found this to be a very refreshing perspective. With yoga classes now a gym and fitness center staple, I think it’s a great idea, and probably well overdue, for us to make this distinction clear.Our conversation about this issue also got me to thinking about my own journey as a yoga practitioner and teacher. I too have been mainly an asana teacher, but I’ve been hesitant to state it that way. It’s important to acknowledge that “asana” is not synonymous with “yoga,” yet, at the same time, the line between “just asana” and something more can be blurry.With my deep, ongoing interest in how physical health and the mind-body connection intersect with emotional well-being, asana never feels like “just exercise” to me. For that matter, the same can be true of other physical practices and forms of exercise. A non-yogi friend who is a dedicated runner describes her daily runs as her time to be fully with herself and reports that the mental benefits are at least as important as the cardio workout.This view aligns with my belief that there is no real separation between mind and body, but that we are completely integrated beings whose physical and emotional health are deeply interconnected. And there are plenty of other ways to take asana practice beyond the physical level. For example, the friend who mentioned the podcast to me is an artist and art therapist in addition to teaching yoga, a lovely combination of skills that deeply inform her practice and her teaching.While I see spirituality as deeply personal and individual and have never felt qualified to be anyone else’s spiritual guide on the yoga path, I’m also aware that in teaching asana, I’m encouraging students to question their sense of what’s possible and explore their ability to create change and grow. Learning and practicing asana is, among other things, changing our physical limitations, and that can have a profound impact on our sense of possibility. In positive psychology this is known as self-efficacy, our belief that we can realize our goals, and as growth mindset (which I discussed in Positive Psychology and Yoga, Part 3: Growth and Change), the understanding that our abilities are not fixed but can be developed with practice and persistence.I’ve also felt for quite a while that one of my strengths as a teacher has been conveying the joy I take in my practice and, even before I studied positive psychology, that I was in some sense a teacher of happiness. While it’s an open question as to whether happiness can actually be taught, there are learnable techniques and tools that can help us shift our outlook and elevate our mood, and my experience is that yoga practices can add quite a lot to our well-being toolbox. And all of us are capable of applying the learnings we discover on our mats to other areas of our lives.So for me, the “just” in “just asana” is a little simplistic. There are many ways to find deeper meaning in asana practice, even if the traditional eightfold path isn’t the journey for us. Whether or not we’re seeking enlightenment, I’ve found there can profound “mini-enlightenments” gleaned from asana practice. Getting to know ourselves better, learning to be gentler and kinder with ourselves and others, discovering the value of exploration and persistence, and focusing on being in the moment or with the process rather than on achieving a particular result are just a few examples.Like most of us, I’ve found this past year of quarantining challenging in many ways. Although under normal circumstances I enjoy living alone and am not prone to either loneliness or depression, I’ve experienced my share of both during the pandemic. So I’ve been extra grateful for having my yoga practice to draw on as a resource and a refuge during this time. While it may be a physical practice—focused on breath and moving and stretching—it’s not “just asana.” Even a short, simple practice session is a reliable way for me to re-energize and reconnect with my inner joy, joy that is not dependent on external circumstances.

For information about Sandy’s classes, writing, and positive psychology journey see

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