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 Yoga: What are Yoga Asanas and Why Practice Them? 

While I have given the practice of asanas great emphasis in this book, it is not because the perfection of the body or of yoga postures is the goal of yoga practice. This down-to-earth, flesh-and-bones practice is simply one of the most direct and expedient ways to meet yourself. It is a good place to begin. Whether you meet yourself through standing on your feet or standing on your head is irrelevant. It's important, therefore, not to make the mistake of thinking that the perfection of the yoga asanas is the goal, or that you'll be good at yoga only once you've mastered the more difficult postures. The asanas are useful maps to explore yourself, but they are not the territory. The goal of asana practice is to live in your body and to learn to perceive clearly through it. If you can master the Four Noble Acts, as I like to call them, of sitting, standing, walking, and lying down with ease, you will have mastered the basics of living an embodied spiritual life. This book gives you the tools to do this and to go further if you wish.

The emphasis on asana practice is also specific to the age we live in, for we live in a time of extreme dissociation from bodily experience. When we are not in our bodies we are dissociated from our instincts, intuitions, feelings and insights, and it becomes possible to dissociate ourselves from other people's feelings, and other people's suffering. The insidious ways in which we become numb to our bodily experience and the feelings and perceptions that arise from them leave us powerless to know who we are, what we believe in, and what kind of world we wish to create. If we do not know when we are breathing in and when we are breathing out, when we are unable to perceive gross levels of tension, how then can we possibly know how to create a balanced world? Every violent impulse begins in a body filled with tension; every failure to reach out to someone in need begins in a body that has forgotten how to feel. There has never been a back problem or a mental problem that didn't have a body attached to it. This limb of yoga practice reattaches us to our body. In reattaching ourselves to our bodies we reattach ourselves to the responsibility of living a life guided by the undeniable wisdom of our body.

When we begin practice, we may feel far from happy within ourselves. In fact, even the semblance of happiness may seem as remote to us as winning the lottery. We may feel utterly confused, buried in self-destructive habits, and encumbered by difficulties, whether emotional, physical, or material, that appear insurmountable. Our bodies may feel as stiff and knotted as an old tree, and our minds a jumble of worries and neuroses. Platitudes about the peace and happiness available to us right now sound empty in the face of our very real pain. Most of us begin like this, and even those who feel some sense of inner balance often find that underneath the thin veneer of appearances, there is much work to be done.

(Excerpted from Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit: A Return to Wholeness ISBN: 0805059709)
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 About The Author
Donna Farhi Donna Farhi is a Yoga teacher who has been practicing for 30 years and teaching since 1982. She leads intensives and teacher training programs internationally. Donna is best known for her unique ability to help......more
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