Yoga is that which gives you pleasure and comfort.
The definition for 'asana' is a posture that is stable and pleasant. You should feel comfortable when doing yoga asanas. What is the definition of comfort? When you don't feel the body. If you are sitting in some odd positions then you feel those parts of the body, painfully. Your focus is more on the discomfort there. When you do any asana, what you feel first is discomfort. But if you take your mind through it, you will find that in just a few minutes the discomfort has disappeared and you don't feel the body. You feel an expansion or infinity in the postures.
How should a posture be done? Get into a position and let go of the effort. What happens then? Infinity abides in you. So each asana should be done keeping in mind that the goal of this is not just the correctness of the posture, but to feel an expansion within. This is the most important thing in yoga asanas. The purpose of yoga is not only to keep a good physical shape but also to experience infinity and timeless expansion within. And that starts happening to you with some practice.
The other definition for yoga is to get back from the scenery to the seer. Slowly take your attention from outside to inside. First, from the environment, bring your attention to the physical body. Then go one step further because even the body is the scenery and take your attention to the mind. Now when you witness the thoughts that are coming in the mind, even that becomes the scenery. Go deeper. So movement from the scenery to the seer, to the one who is seeing everything is another definition of yoga.
Whenever you experience joy, ecstasy, bliss and happiness in life, knowingly or unknowingly you are abiding in the nature of the seer. Otherwise, at other times, you are with different activities of the mind, you are lost in them.
The Modulations of the Mind
What are these different activities of the mind? The modulations of the mind are of five forms; some are problematic and some are not. These are:
1. Pramana: when the mind is engaged in wanting proof
2. Viparyaya: means wrong understanding
3. Vikalpa: means an imaginary notion, not conforming to reality
4. Nidra: which means sleep
5. Smruti: living in memory
These five vrittis or modulations of the mind drain the potential of a human being. Having control over these modulations of the mind is what yoga is all about. They are like horses. If the reins of the horses are in your hands, then you can give them direction, but if you are at the mercy of the horse then it takes you wherever it goes. So it is said, 'Yogah chitta vritti nirodaha' - Yoga is that which arrests the modulations of the mind.
When you practice an asana, the goal is to feel comfortable and then feel the expansion; not by wanting to feel, but by letting go; by not 'doing' something. So the first step in yoga is to let go, to relax and the last step in yoga is also to let go and relax.
Join Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in NY on June 21 to celebrate the first International Day of Yoga at Lincoln Center. For meditation and other programs, he will be in Tampa Bay, Florida on June 18 and Dallas, Texas from July 1-5. He will be at International Art of Living Center, Quebec, Canada, July 24-31.