We’ve all heard about the spiritual balance yoga offers but what exactly does this entail? It doesn’t necessarily mean donning a saffron robe and giving up all worldly possessions. Instead, the spiritual balance we can achieve with yoga can help us look within and reach a deeper understanding of ourselves and our true natures.
Yoga can help us achieve spiritual balance in different ways. It might be through the study of yogic philosophy or practising asanas and meditation as a way to achieve greater awareness of the body, mind and soul. Don’t expect to feel a profound sense of spiritual balance if you’re only attending a class every so often. Progression down the spiritual path, both on and off the mat, can only really be achieved through regular and sustained practice. Slowly but surely, our yogic journeys can help us reach a better understanding of the essence of our beings. In the process, we can learn how to connect on a deeper level and cultivate the inner qualities of the poses in ourselves.
Balancing the eight limbs
Yoga’s foundational text, the Yoga Sutras, was compiled by the sage Patanjali more than 2000 years ago. The Sutras outline the eight limbs of yoga. They consist of yama (social discipline), niyama (self discipline), asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (union with God). Integrating each of these limbs into daily life is the recipe for enlightenment. However, let’s bring our focus to the third limb, asana, and its role in striking that spiritual balance.
The purpose of asana
As we can see, asanas, make up just one of the eight aspects of yoga. However, as one of the more popular limbs, asanas are a good place to start. They also bridge the physical and mental spheres and act as the springboard to explore other yogic concepts.
According to Patanjali, the purpose of asanas is to prepare the body and mind for meditation. The Sutras state that one has mastered an asana when the pose can be comfortably held for three hours. Don’t worry, we won’t be going that far. However, this does allow us to see the process at play. Asana practice begins at the physical level. We then learn to cultivate the mind by stilling the thoughts and fluctuations, withdrawing the senses from the external environment and looking deeper within to the centre of our beings, the soul. This way, we achieve the total benefits of a pose: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
The rhythmic and repetitive movements and non-competitive and largely non-verbal nature of asana practice add to the meditative and spiritual experience. Connecting with the practice and focusing the mind in the present moment can also help bring out the inner qualities of the postures, such as confidence, stamina, clarity, concentration and willpower, and allow these to be cultivated in ourselves. These can work on a deeper level, at the spiritual centre, for the purpose of transformation and development. We can also draw on these qualities in our day-to-day lives to help us find balance and understand our true natures.
Moving toward spiritual balance on the mat
So how can this actually be achieved through asana practice? As we travel along the yogic path of spiritual transformation, we progress through various stages and also start to integrate and harmonise our kosas, the body’s five sheaths of existence. Advancing in our personal practice and balancing these layers offers great potential for spiritual growth. The first of these stages is known as arambhavastha. This is generally a beginner’s stage in which yoga is practised at an anatomical level. Here, we work with the physical body, the annamaya kosa, and our focus primarily lies in understanding the posture and its movements. It is essential to grapple with the basics and get the correct foundations to attain the comfort and stability that will allow a deepening of practice.
In the intermediate level, ghatavastha, the mind begins to unite with the body. It is in this stage that we start to delve into the more mental and spiritual benefits of yoga as practice begins to encompass a reflective and meditative focus. This greater sense of focus means cultivating awareness when it comes to the breath, muscles, alignment of the body and so on. Here, we can travel further to our energetic body, the pranamaya kosha, and pay greater attention to the breath and actively cultivate pranic energy in the pose. The manomaya kosha, the mental body, also comes into play when we attempt to still and silence the mind. As we begin to focus ourselves in the pose and synchronise movement with the breath, these kosas interact and harmonise.
In the third stage, parichayavastha, the vijnanamaya kosha, the intelligence or wisdom and the body become one. Our intelligence body helps cultivate deeper insight into our consciousness and greater self-knowledge. Before we reach the innermost layer, we must eliminate the impurities and trappings of the intelligence, such as the ego. We also have the opportunity to connect with the deeper qualities the poses embody.
Nishpattyavastha is the final stage, which introduces atma, the soul. This is the stage of liberation where the mind, body and soul become one. At this point, asanas become meditative, spiritual and effortless. Once we have travelled through the various sheaths and established harmonisation, the anandamaya kosha, the bliss or divine body awakens, creating wholeness and allowing the spiritual self to radiate throughout all layers of our beings.