Definition - What does Asana mean?
Asana is traditionally defined as the seated posture, used for meditation, from the Sanskrit meaning “seat.” The term is now commonly used to refer to any physical Hatha yoga posture, found in all styles of yoga practice, such as Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Restorative and Bikram.
In Sanskrit, asana is often used as a suffix in the name of a pose. Although asana is now the most popular aspect of yoga, it is considered to be only one small part of the tradition of yoga as a whole. It is the third of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, following the yamas and niyamas and followed by pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.
Asana practice is considered important since it helps to keep the physical body healthy. Since the body is the vehicle for the soul, looking after the physical body is vital for spiritual development. Asana postures help to increase flexibility and strength, whilst stimulating physiological systems of the body, such as the circulatory, immune, digestive and nervous systems.
Regular asana practice will develop mindfulness, discipline and concentration, in turn preparing the mind for pranayama and meditation. On a subtle level, asana can help to stimulate the energetic body, opening the chakras and nadis in order to allow prana to flow freely.
Yogapedia explains Asana
Asana is outlined In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a collection of discourses compiled by the sage Patanjali around 400 C.E. This was the first text to codify the practices of yoga, and is considered to be the basis of classical yoga philosophy.
Sutra 2.46 outlines the qualities required in order to practice asana: “Sthira Sukham Asanam”. In Sanskrit, sthira means strong, steady or stable, whilst sukha means comfortable, relaxed or at ease. As such, asana is described as a balance between stability and ease.
Whilst the Yoga Sutras only refer to the posture used for seated meditation, this description of asana remains appropriate for all modern forms of the practice. Regardless of the style of yoga, practitioners are generally encouraged to seek a position that is both steady and comfortable.
According to Patanjali, the primary focus of asana is to maintain a long and upright spine in order for energy to flow freely during meditation. Although modern asana alignment cues are not limited to seated postures, teachers similarly tend to focus on the direction and free flow of energy within the body.
Historically, different texts and teachers have outlined varying numbers of asana. The classic texts of Hatha yoga refer to 84 asana as taught by Lord Shiva, highlighting the first four of these as necessary to achieve spiritual perfection. These are siddhasana (Accomplished Pose), padmasana (Lotus Pose), bhadrasana (Gracious Pose) and simhasana (Lion Pose).
Other scriptures such as Gheranda Samhita suggest that there are as many as 8.4 million asana, one for each living creature in the universe. More recently, Sri Dharma Mittra (a well-respected yoga teacher within Iyengar, Ashtanga Vinyasa and Sivananda yoga schools) catalogued a list of 1,300 yoga asana.
Asana should be practiced on an empty stomach and without using excessive force or pressure. In order to enhance the benefits of the poses, asana can be combined with pranayama practices such as ujjayi or kapalbhati. Regardless of the yoga style, asana should always be practiced with mindful awareness, as a means of uniting the body, breath and mind. Specific asana can be used therapeutically to help alleviate specific health problems or physical issues.