I love roller coasters. I always have as far back as I can remember. A roller coaster is a serious feat of design and engineering. Each angle is precise, each curve meticulously sculpted. Each joint is reinforced and stress tested. Every moving part is precise and well balanced. Without the utmost attention to detail in these areas the roller coaster would be unsafe and therefor never exist. It stands on its foundation as a work of power, beauty and precision. But that is not its purpose. All the engineering and design and careful attention to detail is not the point of the roller coaster. The point of the roller coaster is to experience yourself within it. The same is true when we practice asana.
The point of the posture is not the posture. The point of the posture is to experience ourselves within it. Culturally we are inclined to perform and we are goal oriented. These tendencies play out in yoga classes with a desire to look a certain way or even feel a certain way. It is an outside-in approach to postures rather than an inside-out approach. Ultimately both approaches are necessary and the yoga is reveled when we are able to consciously harmonize these complimentary aspects.
The work in an asana practice is based on a relationship between the principle and the process. Each posture is just an idea, a mental construct of images and words. As practitioners we work to create that idea or resemble that idea by manipulating our bodies in certain ways. We need these ideas as they serve as a kind of destination or aspiration, a Platonic essence. The process of becoming the “essence” is where we confront ourselves. Each posture has its obstacles and as we witness these obstacles within ourselves we gain greater insight into our nature. Obstacles can be physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. In this way the asana has its own lessons designed exclusively for each one of us, if we are willing to observe and adapt. As we confront obstacles we make choices: keep doing the same thing, give up, try something different. The first two choices do not lead to greater understanding, the third one does. There is never only one way. Invite variation into the asana and the asana will reveal itself from within.
This the process of becoming. It is ceaseless. This is why asana practice remains compelling year after year. Every day we are a little bit different. Every day our obstacles and lessons may change. As we take responsibility for overcoming these obstacles we empower ourselves throughout all aspects of our lives. The lessons we learn on the mat are lessons for living not for performing.