What is the difference between Asana and exercise?

“Welcome”, said the Yoga Teacher to the new student; “What style of Yoga have you practiced before?”.

Only the exercise Yoga, 8 years – I am quite flexible”, replied the student, “I have been practicing the movements only, but not with much breathing”.

“Exercise is good”, commented the teacher, “but it is a long way off Yoga”;

But aren’t the postures Yoga?” said the student;

“The postures in Hatha Yoga are called Asanas” said the teacher.

‘Ha’ means Sun and ‘tha’ means the moon; ‘Ha’ the positive charge and ‘tha’ the negative charge – Hatha represents the polarities and Yoga, the uniting balancing and harmonizing of the pairs if opposites within us, and eventually going beyond this pair of opposites – and uniting with our source!

Asana’s are the physical approach to this unity.

But how can doing these postures lead us to such experience”, enquired the student.

“Ah” replied the teacher, “because they are performed in a very special, mindful way. And adhering to that way will bring you to yourself!”

Okay” said the student sceptically, “then tell me how, what do I have to do?”;

“I know” said the teacher, “let us do something simple so you can experience the difference”,

“Lie on the floor and perform some simple leg lifts – yes, just the same way as you have always done them – how does that feel?”

Alright” said the student, puzzled…

“that is exercise” said the teacher; “Now,

  • time the movement with your breath.. yes, perfectly timed;
  • now be aware of not only the leg lifting with the breath, but its relationship to the rest of the body;

…how does that feel?”

Different” said the student, “somehow it feels fuller and fatter!

“Now, be aware of,

  • your leg lifting from your navel and not just the hip”;

“Can you do Ujjayi breathing?” asked the teacher;

No” said the student.

So, the teacher and student sat in Vajrasana and the student learnt Ujjayi breathing.

“Right” said the teacher, “back to basics…

  • raise your leg for a leg lift and engage your whole body in the movement – beautifully timed with your Ujjayi breath; and
  • listen to your own sound, your own breath, which will take your inwards.”

After a few rounds, the teacher asks again:

“How does that feel?”

Wow” said the student, “I had to really concentrate and I thought of nothing else, other than what I was doing!

“So, you were well and truly experiencing the present then?”

Oh yes, I was in the moment” said the student.

“Before we move on, now forget what I have taught you and just repeat your usual leg lifts – how does that feel now?” asked the teacher;

Empty” replied the student, “sort of thoughtless – my mind was all over the place!

“Now you know”, said the teacher, “the main difference between ‘exercise’ and Yoga asanas! This knowledge of experience can be applied to all the many and varied asanas.”



(Yoga is):

The real meaning of Asana is a ‘seat’, a firm, comfortable, grounded, stable posture…

We practice all the other postures so that we can ‘sit’ still and contemplate and meditate without disturbance from the body.

It is strange to think that we MOVE so that we can be STILL.

My first teacher Sri Paul, founder of the first Yoga schools in London, would add to the Asana practice:

  • Visualisation of the posture you are going to perform.
  • Observation of yourself physically, emotionally and mentally throughout each stage of the posture.
  • Gratefulness to the body.
  • Giving the posture ‘away’ to the cosmic universe, thereby getting rid of the EGO.
  • Affirmation and identification – I am not ‘Mr / Mrs / Ms’ – I am the Cosmic Universe in miniature!

The teacher asks: HOW DEEP DO YOU WANT TO GO?

The student sighs: “Oh wow! It’s nothing like exercise then!

“Let’s relax” …