What does Asana mean?
Asana is traditionally defined as a “comfortable seat” that is the seated posture used for meditation. More typically now in yoga, the term is used for any physical posture of Hatha yoga. It is the third limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path of ashtanga, following after the yamas and niyamas.
Asana practice is considered important by yogis because it helps to keep the physical body healthy. Given that the body is the vehicle for the spirit, looking after the physical body is important for spiritual development. Practicing asanas can also have a range of emotional and energetic benefits, increase discipline and concentration, and ready the mind for meditation.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, asana is defined as a “steady, comfortable posture.” The sutras do not specify any particular poses, but require simply that in practicing asanas, a position which is both steady and comfortable should always be sought.
Historically, texts and teachers have described different numbers of asanas. The classic texts of Hatha yoga refer to 84 asanas as taught by Lord Shiva, often with the first four of these being considered necessary to achieve spiritual perfection. These are siddhasana, padmasana, bhadrasana and simhasana.
Other teachers and texts have suggested that there are an infinite number of possible asanas, or as many asanas as there are beings. Sri Dharma Mittra, a yoga teacher well-respected by the contemporary schools of Iyengar, Ashtanga Vinyasa and Sivananda yoga, catalogued a list of 1,300 yoga asanas.
It is recommended that asanas are practiced with an empty stomach and without using excessive force or pressure. Asanas can be combined with pranayama practice to enhance the benefits of the poses. They should always be practiced with mindful awareness, uniting the body, mind and breath. Specific asanas can be practiced to help alleviate specific health problems or physical issues.
There are many benefits of asana practice in general. Asanas help increase flexibility and strength. They stimulate all of the physiological systems of the body, including the circulatory, immune and digestive systems. They help develop the mindfulness and focus needed for meditation. On a more subtle level, they are said to stimulate the energetic body, opening the chakras and the nadis. Yoga poses are, in essence, Yoga exercises creating strength and endurance, improving circulation and energy flow, cleansing organs and other systems, and expanding muscles and joints. With all these benefits of the Yoga poses, we can not lose attention to the original purpose of the Yoga pose or Yoga exercise.
Yoga exercises evolved thousands of years ago from the need to create a healthy body in order to move more readily to the state of oneness and realization. When the body is cluttered with stress, tension, and disease, this clouds the mind and the ability to connect with the inner self. The physical freedom attained from the Yoga exercises increases one’s ability to sit with silence and joyful observation.
The practice of Hatha Yoga (Yoga exercises) can be easily moved into a state of Ego where one drives expectations and goals into the Yoga poses. Rather than connecting with in the Inner Self, the practice of Yoga exercises moves one deeper into the physical reality of disillusion.Western culture has easily turned Yoga exercises into another form of superficial workout routines and, rather than having a holistic connection, many people are moving to a place of obsession with the body and its’ achievements. Asana can be described as a physical state of the body such that the posture moves one into an existence of wholeness and steadiness allowing one to reflect inwards on the entire being.