Students that begin their journey in Yoga are usually confronted with physical obstacles in order to reproduce certain "forms" or "shapes" known as Yoga poses (Asana is the word in Sanskrit). Many of which may actually look like mere gymnastics! The literal meaning of Asana being "to sit", our tense Western bodies need to be prepared for a confortable sitting position - with hip and shoulder openers, and back and core strengtheners.
Amongst the 196 aphorisms of Patanjali's Yoga-Sutra (yogic scriptures), only 3 describe Asana. The first one speaks of two complementary polarities:
- Sthira: steadiness, stability, firmness.
- Sukha: happiness, ease, confort.
Sthira is the effort that one puts in the body in order to achieve movement. In most cases, it means bending, twisting, arching, opening... all of which constrain the chest and reduce the breathing capacity. Sukha is the confort that is needed in such constriction in order to attain mental peace within the pose.
The issue when imposing on the body a certain form is that one might stay in this state of constriction which will never feel totally embodied. When it actually needs to be a choice. Choosing to raise the arm, choosing to twist the chest, and not because the teacher said so. The student has to desire the movement with his/her whole Self, as a tool to transcend constriction and attain freedom.
Yoga is a path to liberation (Kaivalya), and one shouldn't fall in the trap of automatic movement and choreography. Instead, one should always try to remain vigilant and conscious of what is going on physically and mentally. This state of focus (Dharana), is a first step to a more meditative state, which can be achieved in any pose - and not just sitting cross-legged.