Asana is derived from the Sanskrit word As which means 'seat', or 'sitting down'. In Patanjali's Sutra where we learn the 8 Limbs of Yoga, the only directions given for achieving asana is "sthira sukham asanam", meaning 'a posture the practitioner can hold comfortably and motionless'. Given asana's entomology and Patanjali's direction, is not a stretch to consider that perhaps when Pantanjali wrote the limb of asana he was referring to the literal seat one takes for meditation. The long, deep kind of meditation that requires absolute stillness in order to achieve Anandamaya Kosha, or the ultimate enlightenment.
We now use asana most commonly to refer to the physical postures that we assume during the practice of yoga. However, Patanjali's directions do come to the forefront of our practice when we start to think about yoga as a moving meditation.
Beyond the mat, asana can be taken to mean an outlook on life, where challenges are an opportunity to learn.
A Brief History of Yoga Asana
Yoga asanas have been widely written about throughout the centuries. Some sight the ancient Hindu deity Lord Shiva as the revealer of 84 classic asanas. Patanjali's Sutra, which we sight for our understanding of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, was believed to be written around 400AD.
Other interpretations arise in 10th, 11th, 15th and 17th centuries AD, while modern interpretations, sequences, and variations are finding their own 30 seconds of fame as the current trend grows.
Yoga is derived from the term 'yoke' meaning union. While we might seem to forget sometimes, our minds and our bodies are a connected, one affects the other. If we choose to overwork our bodies while cultivating negative thoughts and emotions in our minds then we will not find health or happiness in any sense of our being.
Likewise, we can not fill our brains full of knowledge, yet neglect our bodies without facing the consequences sooner or later.
In Sanskrit Patanjali's 'sthira sukham' instruction for asana means, 'steadiness' and 'ease'. No matter which variation or which interpretation of yoga we choose to practice, our ultimate goal is to find ease and steadiness in our minds and our bodies.
During challenging poses we are encouraged to find our breath, if we can not find ease in producing long and steady breaths, then we are not listening to or nourishing our bodies. In asana we aren't trying to do the most ridiculous twisted handstand, instead think of asana as the practice of asking our body and our mind to act with kindness, compassion and unity.
The Benefits of Asana
Beyond the direct physical benefits of practicing asana; improved flexibility, strength and balance, reduced stress and anxiety, increased energy and decreased fatigue, improved sleeping, improved blood circulation, and reduced hypertension.
Yoga postures connect our mind and our body, they help us to realign, massage and release tension in our musculoskeletal system, our nervous and lymphatic system, and our organs.
Yoga postures work energetically with the Pranamaya Kosha to cultivate specific benefits. For example, we can cultivate energy and courage by practicing back-bending postures, or twisting postures to help us find balance and clarity. When we think of the asana as a means to find internal harmony, ease, and steadiness, we naturally worry less about our external 'look'.
Becoming truly engrossed in our own self-awareness, listening to our body, our mind, our emotions. It is here that we start to learn how to cultivate our own happiness, from within.
Salt Power Yoga offers classes for all levels and variations of posture strength for all abilities. We encourage all our students to find their own variations of asanas which nourish them holistically. You can read more about our class descriptions here, and check out our memberships and deals here.