Raja yoga is the science of the mind and its primary text, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali provides that the goal of yoga is ‘chitta vritti nirodhah’. Translated from Sanscript this means ‘restraint of the modifications of the mind stuff.’
Patanjali divides yoga practice into 8 stages or limbs, known as Ashtanga or eight –limbed yoga. Each are of equal value, are necessary and should be maintained in yoga.
The 3rd limb is called ‘asana’, which Patanjali defines as ‘comfortable and steady posture’. This can be any posture, whether standing, sitting or lying down that one can maintain in comfort for a length time, to allow for restraint of the modifications of the mind stuff.
When trying to hold a meditative pose, even for a short length of time, people often feel stiffness, cramp and pain in the body and may need to move or fidget. This in turn creates an active mind, impairing one’s ability to focus &/or meditate.
Sri Swami Satchidananda explains this phenomenon is caused by toxins and tensions residing in the body. If the body is strong and supple it will be healthy and tension free, which would allow one to forget the body, when positioned in mediation.
‘Physical and mental toxins create stiffness and tension. Anything that makes us stiff can also break us. Only if we are supple will we never break.’ The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Hatha yoga was created to help one remain still and achieve a meditative pose. It includes postures designed to squeeze the body in different directions to aid the elimination of toxins from within the body. Additionally, a yogic diet is prescribed to prevent further toxins from entering the body, such as a diet free of fish, eggs, meat, excessive stimulants and heavy spices.
Hatha yoga includes a range of diverse postures, which is the branch of yoga commonly seen and practiced in the West. These postures help the body to become strong and supple, and eliminate the physical and mental toxins residing within. This in turn better enables one to remain in a meditative posture and practice yoga.
Asana practice is an example of Tapas, fiery cleansing, which is one of the 5 principles of Niyamas (self-observation) – Patanjali’s 2nd limb of Ashtanga yoga. Tapas meaning to burn or create heat. The practicing of Asana encompasses many facets including the mind, body and breath. This in combination, helps to purge the body of toxins and purify, as one.
Peace & love.