A physical position does not mean achieving a proper state of mind. Getting into such a position of a body means that there is already a proper state of consciousness, there is no need to achieve any special state of consciousness.
(Shunryu Suzuki, Zen master)
Body posture (asana) causes happiness of stillness.
(Yoga Sutras: 2.46)
At this stage of development, a yogi has already realized that a body is but a medium for manifestation of unmanifested consciousness and lack of control over breath is a reason for the immense consciousness to be limited to physical limitations and remaining dormant.
(Shri Shailendra Sharma, comments to Yoga Sutras 2.46)
There are several meanings of the word asana: a rug, a mat, a specially prepared place for meditation and contemplation, and a position of hatha yoga. Expressions ”to sit on asana” and “to sit in asana” are synonymous not by chance. Yoga asana as a motionless-steady-convenient position and a condition of mind caused by such position are the same for a practitioner of concentration. A body sits on asana - mind stays in asana. From this point of view eighty four thousand asanas granted by Shiva are nothing else but eighty four thousand states of consciousness... besides enlightenment in samadhi they also provide a therapeutic effect for a body... and mind, which has not yet reached heights of yogic concentration.
So what is an asana?
Let's address to the sources: in Yoga Sutras by Patanjali asana is defined as “Sthirasukhamasanam”. Sthira - steady, Sukham - convenient, Asanam - a postura (Sadhanapada, sutra 46). Commentaries to this shloka essentially differ among different authors, but there is one thing in common between them: they define asana as means of a certain degree of mind stability in various body conditions. It should be specified that stability (sthira) assumes convenience (sukham) as well, convenience from staying in a limiting immovability of asana. First of all we are talking about mental condition of a practitioner, and secondly, about physical comfort, which, in the given context, is only a consequence of a “steady convenience” of mind. Sukham is translated also as a condition of happiness, satisfaction, arising from a correct practice of asana. Sitting positions with straight back and crossed legs were traditionally used for concentration practices. Certainly, it is much easier to keep a relative immovability for a long time while sitting rather than standing. But besides the physiological reasons there are some aspects connected with work of mind and mechanisms of perception.
Indriyas – “factors of domination”
According to Patanjali: “mind understands its form only in accordance with its impressions”, and it grasps impressions by means of sense organs called indriyas. A philosophical system of Sankhya uses this term to designate only perception organs. In Buddhist yoga, in treatises of post initial Abhidharma, a more detailed classification was developed that is not present in Sankhya. Indriyas are considered to be a set of mental qualities inherent to everyone to some extent. These qualities can be strengthened by practice; conscious combination of them can form super abilities or siddhis, not peculiar to consciousness of an ordinary person. Indriya is translated as “a factor of domination” that underlines domination of each of them in its own sphere. Different indriyas as mental conditions are actualized depending on surrounding impressions. While it occurs automatically mind condition completely depends on “reasons and conditions” that generate it. A skilful fueling of good mental qualities creates fertile grounds for practice. Good qualities are those that eliminate reasons of suffering or klesha. Indriyas are only the tools of comprehending, and any tool can be used either for good, or not. Therefore, depending on presence of affects inflow, indriyas can be classified as polluted and not polluted. For example, a global function of viability, a preservation of consciousness’ involvement in circulation of births, and preservation of body’s health in current life in particular is expressed in adaptable possibilities of an organism and ability to social orientation. Viability polluted by affects is expressed in a form of unjustified aggression, violence and cruelty. An affected courage is roughness, uncompromising attitude, straightforwardness and persistence. An affected feminity is amorphy, sensual spontaneity, irresponsibility and lack of principles. Certainly, both of these indriyas are present in men as well as women. In yoga the domination of indriyas is supervised by mind and is intentionally used in meditation techniques. They help to gradually achieve a state of Samadhi, where an inflow of affects and karma is blocked. For example, at the pratyahara stage there are already no sensual indriyas because of lack of demand for them. And the mind, which is not distracted by external impressions, is focused inside. Not indulged in desires, senses follow the mind. This is Pratyahara. “...When the cover enveloping the consciousness disappears, mind no longer needs to receive experiences through the senses and senses merge into mind, which is their origin. This is as if they get dissolved.” . Subsequent levels of concentration, dharana, dhyana and samadhi, are characterized by an actualization degree, as well as “lack of demand” for this or that indriya. At samadhi stages only the highest indriyas are actualized. Indriyas of distinguishing comprehension, of knowledge of the not yet learnt, of deep and perfect knowledge cannot be polluted by affects in principle, with their help a process of generation and accumulation of karma stops.
Culture of mental states
Asana develops certain mental qualities without which any further practice of yoga is impossible. The main objective of asana is preparation to samadhi, no more - no less. The state of “steady satisfaction in immovability” is expressed in a harmony of contrasts: sthira, as hardness, structure, will and sukham, as softness, fluidity, lack of will. Harmonious interaction of a body and mind means a stabilization of vital force or prana, which is present in all spheres of consciousness; it is necessary for further safe and effective practice of pranayama as well as other parts of yoga.
Sthira as mental state is, first of all, a determination, inflexibility, firm intention. Such quality is especially necessary for further deepening of practice. Enlightened Buddha Shakyamuni, retired under the boddhi tree and formulated a firm intention “not to interrupt asana till all affects in consciousness are destroyed”. Determination makes the mind more acute, actualizing attention, which does not allow a mind to deviate from an object, and concentration, as a profound focusing on one object.
Sukham finds its expression first of all in relaxation - flexibility of consciousness. Flexibility is a means of removing stress and preventing clamps. Clamped body and consciousness are deprived of ability to operate effectively without superfluous energy inputs. Natural relaxation of mind and body are expressed in sensations of ease and light that appear as a result of harmonious interaction of consciousness with the objects. Sensation of flexibility is “a happiness of calmness”, which removes deep mental and physical tension. Thus, this quality changes the whole basis of consciousness activity and serves as one of the means for elimination of affective clouding of mind.
It is manifested as equal attitude towards pleasant-attractive and unpleasant-repulsive objects. It is a quality, which is crucial both for an asana and for a life. Sometimes calmness is named indifference, it is not correct, for indifference is characterized by absence of interest to an object, and calmness is characterized by the absence of “indignations” in mind that perceives an object. These are not objects that are “beautiful or ugly” it is our perception that is dual. Calmness in asana is characterized by the ability to observe reactions/displays of consciousness “from aside” without being involved in sensual-emotional experiences. It can be said that calmness is a detachment of mind being in action. It creates a basis for detached mental state in a daily life when applied in asana in relation to constantly varying sensations at body level, feelings and thoughts. Indifference, an affective state, is often confused with detachment, but indifference is based on egoism and shown as absence of interest to whatever mismatches current inquiries of an ego.
Diligence is expressed as an aspiration in maintaining good mental qualities. It provides a continuity of yogic sadhana. It is not a passionate aspiration for pleasant experiences caused by practice, but diligence based on understanding of its advantage.
Abhyasa and vayragya
Yoga sutras assign to develop abhyasa and vayragya. Abhyasa is an action expressed in continuity of practice; vayragya is a detached attitude towards the results of the action. Abhyasa is made of determination, diligence and flexibility, vayragya – of detachment. Renunciation is not a refusal of anything, but a state of mind when it is not involved in any processes of displays of consciousness. Deeper meaning of this concept can be given by words calmness and equality. Practice results are special psychic states, which are just the signs of successful sadhana but not its purpose. In order to avoid attachment to arising psychic states and new psychic powers a development of detachment is considered necessary along with other qualities.
Technique and principle
A skilled equestrian who has mastered ways of managing a horse far not always becomes a master. On the other hand, a person who never sat on a horse, can quickly learn riding if he knows, what the horse wants. To master techniques in perfection is not enough to become skilled at something, it is important to understand a principle.
(Tokuan Soho “Notes of Zen master to Fencing master”)
The main thing in a pose of zazen is to hold a straight back.
Restraint of motor performance is needed for switching attention from “rough” physical sensations to “subtle” mental processes. A combination of stability and convenience is not an easy task for mind influenced by affects of sensual perception. Try to stay in padmasana motionlessly with a straight back for 15 minutes... and 25 minutes more., And if in one hour you still do not feel a delight or happiness it means that for you this asana is a technique, which is not yet mastered, but not a principle. Meanwhile, according to classical canons, asana is considered as mastered, when it is kept throughout three yamas, which makes three hours and a little more. If there is no proper understanding of an idea, practice of asana can become a struggle with yourself. A struggle for “immovability by all means” is a senseless display of violence in relation to a body. Attempts “to win and surpass” yourself in this way bring weariness and do not develop a strength of mind but banal obstinacy and indulgence to ego ambitions. As a rule, similar attitude comes from a desire to “have” an asana instead of “being” in it. “To have and to be” are different motivating factors. A mind focused on sensual perception perceives and acquires impressions only as conceivable by means of a body. We continue to consider ourselves as no more but a body, when becoming attached or being averted, though on the intellectual level we can think differently. A mind adjusted on possession is constantly occupied with memories of the past or plans for the future, therefore does not stay in the present and does not accept the present - is not able “to be”. Asana causes “happiness of calmness” only if it is practically experienced that body is just a means for manifesting consciousness. Body as well as consciousness is not something permanent, they are changing under the influence of impressions. Interrelation of body and mind is experienced by means of vigilant and imperturbable contemplation of any changes. Thus, a perfect stability of mind achieved by asana practice is nothing but a proper understanding of body limitations. Staying in a present moment, without any reaction, expectations, and illusions is yoga, a restraining the impressions of mind. Realizing instability of the phenomena of consciousness, a yogi comprehends four aspects peculiar to substance and consciousness - occurrence, maintenance, change and destruction. It makes him aware of immensity of consciousness, slightly opening a cover of Avidya.
Asana that is not mastered
Let's admit that asana is mastered at certain extent, we stay in it motionless, happy and quiet. We are sitting for some time in it, but once we stand up and “leave” the asana - an effect achieved fades away after a while as well. It means that mind is just “under the impression of yoga” and at this stage there is an essential difference, whether we sit in padmasana or on a chair. If ordinary state of mind dominates in a daily life it means that asana was mastered only at the body level. It is already good, if we just realize what is happening. How can impressions of mind be restrained? Practice of the external form of asana is only the first step in developing control over mind. It is considered to be achieved if:
At this stage of development, a yogi has already realized that a body is but a medium for manifestation of unmanifested consciousness. And lack of control over breath is a reason for the immense consciousness to be limited to physical limitations and remaining dormant.
Mind, like water that takes the form of a vessel, is inclined to take the form of a reality that surrounds it. Depending on prevailing impressions the state of mind constantly changes. If “mind is not staying in asana”, it does not mean, that asana is not mastered, it means that such form of practice is just not enough for its irreversible transformation.
After an asana is mastered…
So what does make the mind realized, steady and controllable when it is not in asana? Which qualities make the mind essentially different? How to keep the achieved steadiness?
Begets a different knowledge by means of faith, valor, retrospection, Samadhi and intellect..
By drawing inspiration from a great person who is possessed of this superb knowledge by virtue of his practice of yoga, others begin to practice yoga with due faith on his lessons. Being ambitious of establishing themselves in to immensity they perform valorous practice for staying in profound meditation. They attain conscious presence after attaining superb intellect that is created by Samadhi.
Any undertaking is preceded by faith as a degree of trust to the tradition and the teacher transferring the knowledge. To take on trust and practice resolutely checking up effectiveness of a method is the first step, which is inspired by examples of great individualities and is compelled by circumstances. A faith in method has no religious basis; it is developing in the course of practical understanding based on real experiences. By means of faith intention is formed as a controllable imagination, which directs actions into a channel of practice, giving energy and determination. Energy is an indefatigability of consciousness in fulfilling actions that form suitable conditions for practice. Determination in meditation is an ability to firmly adhere to the selected object according to the choice made. Attention is required as an effort taken by the mind for keeping an object in the field of consciousness. Remembrance prevents dispersion of consciousness during practice. It is also needed for fixing perceptive images of experienced conditions for the purpose of faster “one-stage” reproduction. A yogic concentration or samadhi develops from a set of mentioned mental factors that arise simultaneously. On a basis of samadhi arises prajnya (distinguishing comprehension, wisdom). Prajnya is not related to “congenital” psychic abilities. On its basis a yogi develops a degree of self-control that definitively releases suffering. And by means of concentration on “the seen”, he reaches a sphere of the higher indriyas – “the higher and perfect knowledge”. A state of samadhi and the higher indriyas “are indescribable”, it is impossible to transfer this experience by words. To believe in samadhi means to go through samadhi, even if it is only a gleam of samadhi.