There are an infinite number of ways to view asanas: as exercises beneficial for strength, flexibility, circulation, etc., as microcosms of challenges we face in our lives, as opportunities (or a preparation) for meditation, or even as offerings to that which find inspirational.
Listen to Dharma Mittra (my main teacher in NYC) on the purpose of asana:
One of my goals here in New York was to be able to express Scorpion pose, vrschikasana, without the use of a wall or the help of my teacher. Although I was able to perform the pose with his help at the center in Varanasi, independence is important to me, a vital ingredient for growth. So, almost every morning, I’ve been practicing. The first time I popped into the pose on my own was in Sri Dharma-ji’s class. Dharma presents many wonderful challenges in his Master classes, and as I “stood” on my forearms, legs dangling atop my head, I found myself in a mild state of shock. Am I doing this right now?!
Having asanas as “goals” is in some ways contradictory to the path of yoga. In order to be liberated from attachments we engage in a process of letting go – this includes letting go of the fruits of our efforts. Honestly, I was never really sure if I’d ever actually be able to the posture, but the process of trying really is enjoyable. Kind of like studying for my GREs. I never used to sincerely enjoy math, but now I actually look forward to the meticulous process of figuring each unique problem out – and getting a correct answer is like eating the whipped cream on my hot cocoa. I don’t need it – but it’s damn good when I get it!
So today I woke up, dedicated a few Surya Namaskars to the safety and well being of those of us on Sandy’s path, and eventually made my way to Vrschikasana. It’d been over a week since I visited the pose, but I could feel my body’s memory of the posture, despite the lapse in practice. A kind of wisdom that trumps time – now that’s an empowering feeling!
Julie Wilcox on youtube going through steps leading up to Scorpion, in case you’re feeling feisty! I don’t know this teacher at all, but the video is pretty thorough.
According to Light on Yoga, one of the seminal works on yoga asanas, the posture bears these benefits:
- abdominal muscles are stretched
- entire spine is vigorously toned
- by stamping on his head with their feet, the yogi attempts to eradicate the self-destroying emotions of pride, anger, hatred, jealousy, intolerance and malice which exist in the mind
- humility, calmness and tolerance are developed as the ego is eradicated
- increased circulation
- strengthening of the arms and shoulders, as well as the backs of the legs
- stretching and strengthening of the neck
- improved focus