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The Significance of the Asanas and Pranayamas
The Significance of the Asanas and Pranayamas (Language of the Body) - Asanas, The Difference Between Asanas and Gymnastics, Important Principles for...
The Significance of the Asanas and Pranayamas
The Significance of the Asanas and Pranayamas Language of the Body
“Asana” is the Sanskrit word for a physical posture. Expressed in general terms Asana denotes a specific position which can be held in a relaxed and comfortable manner for a long period of time. In the 2nd Century before Christ, Patanjali wrote down the principles of Yoga practice in the “Yoga Sutras” (aphorisms). He named only the meditation posture “Asana” and the physical postures he termed “Yoga Vyayam”. However, in common usage the dynamic Yoga exercises also became known as Asanas.
Many Asanas were derived from the natural movements and positions of animals and carry the names of animals such as “cat”, “deer”, “tiger”, “hare”, etc. These postures make use of examples from nature on how to help oneself. Asanas have a far-reaching effect upon body and mind. The animals instinctively used these movements and positions because of their natural benefits. These effects are attained through the practice of the Asanas. For example: Marjari (The Cat) for stretching the body and the spine, Bhujangasana (The Cobra) for the release of aggression and emotions, and Shashankasana (The Hare) for relaxation. The headstand (Shirshasana) and Lotus (Padmasana), are regarded as the supreme or “royal” Asanas.
Asanas are beneficial for the muscles, joints, cardiovascular system, nervous system and lymphatic system, as well as the mind, psyche and Chakras (energy centres). They are psychosomatic exercises, which strengthen and balance the entire nervous system and harmonise and stabilise the practitioner’s state of mind. The effects of these exercises are a sense of contentment, clarity of mind, relaxation and a feeling of inner freedom and peace.
The system “Yoga in Daily Life” is designed in such a way that the body is gradually and systematically prepared, leading from simple preparatory exercises towards the more advanced and difficult Asanas. Periods of relaxation are included at the beginning and end of each Yoga class, as well as between the individual exercises. By developing the ability to relax, the feeling for one's own body is deepened. Physical and mental relaxation are prerequisites for the correct performance of all Yoga exercises and it is only in this way that the effects of the Asanas completely unfold.
The breath plays an important role in the Asanas. With coordination of breath and movement, the Yoga practice becomes harmonious, the breath deepens of its own accord and the body’s circulation and metabolism are stimulated. Use of the breath greatly enhances muscle relaxation by concentrating on tense areas of the body and consciously relaxing those parts with each exhalation.
As most people are in the habit of breathing quite shallow, inadequately filling the lungs, the Full Yoga Breath is practiced in “Yoga in Daily Life”. Correct breathing is fundamental for the body’s optimum metabolic function. With regular practice, the Full Yoga Breath becomes the habitual and natural way of breathing. Slower and deeper breaths improve circulation, nerve function and one’s whole physical condition. It also develops a calm, clear mind.
The Difference Between Asanas and Gymnastics
In contrast to gymnastic exercises, Asanas are practiced slowly to enable mental focus and a conscious understanding of the movement. The number of exercises practised is not important, but rather the quality of performance. Before, after and between the exercises, a period of conscious physical and mental relaxation should be included.
The objective of the Asanas is not the conversion of bottled-up energy or tension into movement, rather it is to harmonise the body and mind by consciously observing the physical and mental process as each movement or relaxation is practiced. The body does not become tired or exhausted through the Asanas. On the contrary, with energy recharged, one feels rested and refreshed.
Important Principles for Practice of the Asanas
Asanas are always performed in coordination with the breath:
Movements that expand the chest and abdominal cavity, are always connected with the inhalation
Movements that narrow the chest and abdominal cavity, are always connected with the exhalation
In the initial stages of practice, the Asanas are performed once or twice without holding, so that the movement of the body and the breath are synchronised. In this way it is clearly established with which movement to inhale or exhale. This type of practice calms the nervous system, stimulates the glands, increases the capacity of the breath and frees one from physical and mental stress. The mind becomes relaxed, calm and clear.
Only after this preliminary practice should an Asana be held for a longer time, breathing normally. During practice, concentration is directed to the specific part of the body on which the exercise is working. The breath consciousness is also directed to this region of the body.
After practicing a posture, a counter pose or equalising posture is carried out. For example, when one part of the body is flexed or contracted, then in the following Asana it is extended or stretched.
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For other uses, see Asana (disambiguation).
Asanas in varied contexts. Left to right, top to bottom: Eka Pada Chakrasana; Ardha Matsyendrasana; Padmasana; Navasana; Pincha Mayurasana; Dhanurasana; Natarajasana; Vrkshasana
An asana is a body posture, originally and still a general term for a sitting meditation pose, and later extended in hatha yoga and modern yoga as exercise, to any type of position, adding reclining, standing, inverted, twisting, and balancing poses. The define "asana" as "[a position that] is steady and comfortable". Patanjali mentions the ability to sit for extended periods as one of the eight limbs of his system. Asanas are also called yoga poses or yoga postures in English.
The 10th or 11th century and the 15th century identify 84 asanas; the 17th century provides a different list of 84 asanas, describing some of them. In the 20th century, Indian nationalism favoured physical culture in response to colonialism. In that environment, pioneers such as Yogendra, Kuvalayananda, and Krishnamacharya taught a new system of asanas (incorporating systems of exercise as well as traditional hatha yoga). Among Krishnamacharya's pupils were influential Indian yoga teachers including Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, and B.K.S. Iyengar, founder of Iyengar yoga. Together they described hundreds more asanas, revived the popularity of yoga, and brought it to the Western world. Many more asanas have been devised since Iyengar's 1966 which described some 200 asanas. Hundreds more were illustrated by Dharma Mittra.
Asanas were claimed to provide both spiritual and physical benefits in medieval hatha yoga texts. More recently, studies have provided evidence that they improve flexibility, strength, and balance; to reduce stress and conditions related to it; and specifically to alleviate some diseases such as asthma and diabetes.
Asanas have appeared in culture for many centuries. Religious Indian art depicts figures of the Buddha, Jain tirthankaras, and Shiva in lotus position and other meditation seats, and in the "royal ease" position, lalitasana. With the popularity of yoga as exercise, asanas feature commonly in novels and films, and sometimes also in advertising.
1 History 1.1 Ancient times 1.2 Medieval texts 1.3 Modern pioneers
1.4 Origins of the asanas
2 Purposes 2.1 Spiritual 2.2 Exercise 2.3 For women 3 Effects 3.1 Muscle usage
3.2 Claimed benefits
4 Common practices
4.1 Traditional and modern guidance
4.2 Surya Namaskar 5 Styles 6 Types 7 In culture
7.1 In religious art
7.2 In literature 7.3 In advertising 8 Notes 9 References 10 Sources 11 External links
Mould of Pashupati seal from the Indus Valley civilization, c. 2500 BC, its central figure in a pose resembling Mulabandhasana.[a]
The central figure in the Pashupati seal from the Indus Valley civilization of c. 2500 BC was identified by Sir John Marshall in 1931 as a prototype of the god Shiva, recognised by being three-faced; in a yoga position as the Mahayogin, the god of yoga; having four animals as Pashupati, the Lord of Beasts; with deer beneath the throne, as in medieval depictions of Shiva; having a three-part headdress recalling Shiva's trident; and possibly being ithyphallic, again like Shiva. If correct, this would be the oldest record of an asana. However, with no proof anywhere of an Indus Valley origin for Shiva, with multiple competing interpretations of the Pashupati seal and no obvious way of deciding between these, there is no reliable evidence that it is actually a yoga pose that is depicted in the seal.This article contains Indic text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks or boxes, misplaced vowels or missing conjuncts instead of Indic text.
Asanas originated in India. In his , Patanjali (c. 2nd to 4th century CE) describes asana practice as the third of the eight limbs (Sanskrit: अष्टाङ्ग, , from अष्ट् , eight, and अङ्ग , limb) of classical, or raja yoga. The word asana, in use in English since the 19th century, is from Sanskrit: आसन "sitting down" (from आस् "to sit down"), a sitting posture, a meditation seat.
A page from Patanjali's and commentary (c. 2nd to 4th century CE), which placed asana as one of the eight limbs of classical yoga
The eight limbs are, in order, the yamas (codes of social conduct), niyamas (self-observances), asanas (postures), pranayama (breath work), pratyahara (sense withdrawal or non-attachment), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (realization of the true Self or Atman, and unity with Brahman, ultimate reality). Asanas, along with the breathing exercises of pranayama, are the physical movements of hatha yoga and of modern yoga. Patanjali describes asanas as a "steady and comfortable posture", referring to the seated postures used for pranayama and for meditation, where meditation is the path to samadhi, transpersonal self-realization.
What is an Asana in Yoga?
Asanas are the physical aspects of yoga, including poses. Learn about the history of asanas and how they are commonly used today in yoga.
What is an Asana in Yoga?
By Ann Pizer, RYT Updated on April 07, 2022
Reviewed by Kristin McGee, CPT
Compassionate Eye Foundation / Getty Images
Table of Contents Benefits of Asanas
Sanskrit Names for Poses
History of Asana
Beginning Your Asana Practice
Asana is the physical practice of yoga poses. In addition to referring broadly to the physical aspect of yoga, asana can also be used to describe a particular pose, as in, "The handstand is an asana that is very challenging," or "This flow consists of a series of standing asanas."
What most people call yoga could more precisely be called asana. Yoga has eight limbs. Besides asana, yoga also encompasses pranayama (breathing exercises), dhyana (meditation), yamas (codes of social conduct), niyamas (self-observances), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), and samadhi (bliss).
Benefits of Asanas
Asanas are performed to improve flexibility, strength, and balance.1 Asanas—or yoga poses—help the body's joints, ligaments, and muscles strengthen through movement. A regular yoga practice can, over time, increase flexibility and mobility, lubricating the spine and alignment to aid in everyday activity.
All yoga poses are performed and sync with the breath, such as the Ujjayi breath. The poses are not meant to simply be physical exercises but rather used holistically as a mind-body practice to improve physical, mental, and spiritual health. Combining breathing techniques and focus, these asanas can also help relieve stress and anxiety.2
A regular asana practice can also help strengthen the immune system3 and improves blood circulation throughout the body, vascular function, blood lipids, and mood.4 Through dedicated practice and time, the body can experience noticeable improvements and benefits from asanas.
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Sanskrit Names for Poses
Asana applies as a suffix in the Sanskrit names for yoga poses, such as trikonasana (Triangle pose), virabhadrasana (Warrior I), and Eka pada rajakapotasana (Pigeon pose). Knowing this and a few other Sanskrit terms can help you unravel these complicated names.
For instance, eka pada means one-footed, so you can expect that one foot will be doing something different from the other in these poses. Parsva means side (usually a pose facing one side), parivrtta means turned (usually a twisted version of a pose), supta means reclining, etc. Beginning to see these patterns helps the names start to make more sense.
Some poses have more than one name from different yoga traditions. It is common to have the Sanskrit names for animals, Hindu deities, and mythological figures included in the names for poses. You will also see variations in the spelling as they can be translated into English in various ways.
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History of Asana
Asana is the Sanskrit word for posture or seat. As interpreted from the archeological record and primary source materials, the first yoga asanas were most probably seated positions for meditation. They are described in the "Yoga Sutras" of Patanjali, written around the third century.5
Asanas are part of the Hatha yoga practice, a branch of yoga combining physical movements and breathing techniques. The "Hatha Yoga Pradipika" was written in the 15th century and described only 14 postures, mostly seated positions.
It was not until relatively recently in yoga's history (with the influence of the Western physical culture movement) that asana developed a wide array of poses and became the most widely practiced aspect of yoga.
Understanding this goes a long way toward accepting that asana is not a static practice enshrined through the millennia. Instead, it is constantly evolving. A pose invented last week isn't less legitimate than one from the 1940s or the 16th century.
Bikram Choudhury attempted to patent 130 asanas in 2007. The U.S. Patent Office decided that asanas could not be patented in the way he was claiming.6 The government of India then sought to keep asanas in the public domain by publishing them in a public database.
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Beginning Your Asana Practice
Whether you are entirely new to yoga or want to improve your current practice, beginner asanas are some of the fundamental building blocks of any yoga flow. By incorporating them into your routine, and when combined with breath, focus, and meditation, asanas can improve your physical, mental, and emotional health.78
There are many different styles and forms of yoga, and finding the best one for you may take time and discovery. Try out multiple styles of practice—Hatha, vinyasa, or hot yoga (Bikram)—to see which one best suits you.
Vinyasa, for instance, is fast-paced and challenging while Hatha yoga is gentle and paced more slowly. Newer physically-focused classes such as CorePower yoga provide a modern twist on the practice. Remember that yoga may be a lifelong practice, and its benefits grow over time.
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A Word From Verywell
When people think of yoga, they typically think of the physical poses involved, and perhaps, the breathwork. Yoga is many things, and the physical poses are called asanas. There are many types of asanas, old and new, that can be practiced and mastered. Yoga is an excellent physical activity with mental and physiological benefits.