Source: Yajur Veda: 34-1-5
Original writer: Rishi Vishvamitra

ॐ यज्जाग्रतो दूरमुदैति दैवं, तदु सुप्तस्य तथैवैति .
दूरंगमं ज्योतिषां ज्योतिरेकं, तन्मे मनः शिवसंकल्पमस्तु .

Om Yajjagrato Doormudaiti Daivam , Tadu Suptasya Tathaivaiti.
Doorangamam Jyotishaam Jyotirekam, Tanmay Mna Shiv-Sankalapamastu.

O God! The mind of man flees fast and far away in awakened state. It acts the same way during sleep as well.
It is the chief among all senses; such mind should be of pure thoughts.

The Yoga Sutras codified by Shri Patanjali provides a simple guideline for asanas: sthira sukham asanam or one should be steady and comfortable in asanas (2.46). To be more precise, sthira translates into stability and alertness while sukha means with ease or without suffering. The Yoga Sutras go on to explain that when asanas are perfected in this way, the mind can concentrate and fully dwell on the Infinite. In other words, when done properly asanas bring us into a meditative state.

So in our asana practice, it’s important to focus not just on what our body is doing, but on how we’re doing it. With this in mind, here are some things to consider in your own asana practice, whether it be at home or in class:

  • Gracefully coming into poses and holding them long enough to achieve steadiness and comfort is more valuable than quickly moving through a routine just to finish X number of poses. However, asanas can also be held too long in that you can no longer maintain steadiness and comfort. Over time and with practice your duration will naturally increase, but never push yourself beyond your limit.
  • Observe your breath for an indication of the quality of your asanas. It too should be steady, not jerky or uneven. Listening to the gentle flow of your breath can also be calming to the mind and provide focus, creating that steady state that leads into meditation.
  • Make sure your body is free from holding any tension in asanas, such as clenched jaws and scrunched toes. While this may be a natural reaction to a challenging position, the goal should be to  achieve relaxation with alertness in your practice.

Remember, the way asanas make you feel is more important than how you look in the mirror or to the person next to you. Yoga is ultimately for ourselves – to bring freedom, peacefulness and happiness to our body and mind.