Yoga involves meditation, patience and peace. Yoga directly touches the eternal points of the human’s mind.
Asana, Sanskrit for “sitting posture” (asanam is ‘sitting’ or ‘ass’ / aste is ‘he sits’), is a body position, typically associated with the practice of Yoga, intended primarily to restore and maintain a practitioner’s well-being, improve the body’s flexibility and vitality, and promote the ability to remain in seated meditation for extended periods. In the context of Yoga practice, asana refers to two things: the place where a practitioner (yogin (general usage); yogi (male); yogini (female)) sits and the manner (posture) in which s/he sits.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali suggests that asana is “to be seated in a position that is firm, but relaxed”. As the repertoire of postures has expanded and moved beyond the simple sitting posture over the centuries, modern usage has come to include variations from lying on the back and standing on the head, to a variety of other positions. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali mentions the execution of an asana as the third of the eight limbs of Classical or Raja (royal) yoga.
The word asana in Sanskrit does appear in many contexts denoting physical position, although, as noted, traditional usage is specific to the practice of yoga. Traditional usage defines asana as both singular and plural. In English, the plural for asana is defined as asanas. In addition, English usage within the context of yoga practise sometimes specifies yogasana or yoga asana, particularly with regard to the system of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. That said, yogasana is also the name of a particular posture that is not specifically associated with the Vinyasa system, and that while “ashtanga” (small ‘a’) refers to the eight limbs of Yoga delineated below, Ashtanga (capital ‘A’) refers to the specific system of Yoga developed by Sri Krishnamikurti at the Mysore Palace.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali suggests that the only requirement for practising asanas is to be “steady and comfortable”. The body should be held firm yet relaxed, and the practitioner should not experience the discomfort of any kind. Tightness or tension observed within the body should be consciously relaxed.
According to yoga practitioners, when bodily control is mastered, they are free from what they call the “pairs of opposites”, such as heat and cold, hunger and thirst, joy and grief. This non-dualistic perspective comes from the Sankya school of the Himalayan Masters.
Traditional Practices of Yoga
- A glass of freshwater should be taken before performing asanas.
- The stomach should be relatively empty.
- Force or pressure should not be used while performing asanas.
- Lower the head and other parts of the body slowly; in particular, raised heels should be lowered slowly.
- The breathing should be controlled. The benefits of asanas increase if the specific pranayama to the yoga type is performed.
- If the body is stressed, perform Corpse Pose or Child Pose
- Some claim that asanas, especially inverted poses, are to be avoided during menstruation. Others deny this view.
- Nowadays, asanas are generally not performed on the floor, but on Yoga mats instead.
- Pranayama Yoga
- Pranayama is the breath control in yoga and is an integral part when performing the asanas.
Patanjali discusses his specific approach to pranayama in verses 2.49 through 2.51 and devotes verses 2.52 and 2.53 to explaining the benefits of the practice. Patanjali refers to pranayama as the control of life force that comes as a result of practising the various breathing techniques, rather than the numerous breathing exercises themselves.
Surya Namaskara (“Salute to the Sun”), is a form of worshipping Surya, the Hindu solar deity by concentrating on the Sun, for self vitalization. Surya namaskara gives equal weightage to both exercise and posture.
The physical base of the practise links together twelve asanas in a dynamically performed series. A full round of Surya namaskara is considered to be two sets of the twelve poses with a change in the second set to moving the opposite leg first through the series. Generally, Surya namaskara is performed before performing “asanas”.