In Sutra 2.29, Patanjali outlines an eight-limbed practical path to yoga. Though these eight-limbs can be seen as a step-by-step progression, they are all work together and are very interconnected. Western yoga emphasizes asana, the physical practice or posture practice, which is the third limb. The additional seven limbs (yama, niyama, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi) are not what made yoga big in the U.S. “Following the fitness and exercise boom in America, it was the physical practices [of yoga] that caught on,” said Philip Goldberg, a spiritual teacher and author of American Veda (Huffington post article, “How Yoga Became a $27 Billion Industry — And reinvented American Spirituality”, 2013). However, asana and yoga are interchanged, but asana without intention is just gymnastics. Many yoga classes do not inform students that yoga is more than the physical practice, and traditions are being lost. Gary Kraftsow, Viniyoga founder, states, “…there’s a lot of yoga that’s made up, modern stuff, with no understanding of depth and meaning of text.” In addition, emphasizing the physical practice, can lead to an ego and vanity driven nature, which goes against the very idea of yoga.
An advantage, however, to giving priority to asana, is that it helps prepare us for Pranayama (breath control), the 4rth yoga limb. The idea is that we need a relationship with our physical body first, so that we are able to open our thoracic, keep our abdomen soft, keep a lift and openness in our chest. In addition, most Pranayama is seated, so here too the physical practice is beneficial, for it helps us be able to stay seated, and be still. To be able to sit for long periods of time is also necessary for meditation, or Dhyana, the seventh yoga limb.
Asana can be an opportunity, a doorway, into the world of yoga. One could view the physical practice as a vehicle, a ‘hook’, that begins you on your yoga journey.