If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. –attributed to Albert Einstein via the internet.
I don’t know if Einstein said this for reals, but it speaks to me. I can’t explain yoga, or the importance of asana in yoga, simply. Sad, and not for lack of effort. Therefore, in addition to looking within, I look to masters for their wisdom. In the below clip from 1976, BKS Iyengar drops some knowledge relevant to these two questions: What is yoga?, and Why Asana? I’ve transcribed the quotes below.
Based on my limited study of the Yoga Sutras, Iyengar’s definition of yoga is familiar. I get it intellectually, but I don’t get it in my bones. This is not his fault. His style isn’t simple, exactly, but it is clear and dramatic. His style also includes an amazing pair of tiny and bad-ass plaid yoga “pants”.
What is yoga? In order to experience…total freedom [in body, in mind, in the self itself], Indian sages and saints introduced…yoga. Yoga is a union with the body and the mind, mind with the soul so that man…lives in a state of peace and poise…Yoga is a means for freedom, and yoga is the end of freedom itself. Yoga means complete… sublimation of the ways of thought which move in various directions. …Man…when he stills the wandering mind…experiences the self which has no color, no form, no shape. In order to experience that self, yoga has various steps for physical, moral, intellectual, and spiritual discipline…
Why asana? In order to… conquer this inner oscillation of the self with the mind, we have to come to the concrete: the body, which is the temple… the vehicle of the spirit…As long as the body…is not kept healthy, clean, pure and holy, the mind is not released from the bondage…If this body is abused or negleted, we are neglecting the self, so we are neglecting our freedom…The body…has to be conquered so that the mind is completely freed from the attachment of the body and get itself attached to the self….The subtle body, which is the mind, cannot be known, cannot be seen, cannot be understood, so these asana are meant to conquer the known, so that the known dissolves in the unknown.