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Yoga Asanas, Commonly practiced Asana Postures
Padmasana or Lotus pose is a more advanced seated posture
Sarvangasana, a commonly practiced Asana

Asana (Sanskrit आसन sitting down < आस to sit down[1]) 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.[2] These are widely known as Yoga postures or Yoga positions, which is currently practiced for exercise and as alternate medicine.

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.[3] In the Yoga sutras, Patanjali suggests that asana is "to be seated in a position that is firm, but relaxed".[4] 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.[2]In the Yoga sutras, Patanjali mentions the execution of an asana as the third of the eight limbs of Classical or Raja yoga.[5]

The word asana in Sanskrit does appear in many contexts denoting a static 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, plural for asana is defined as asanas. In addition, English usage within the context of yoga practice 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 Krishnamacharya at the Mysore Palace.


Third of the eight limbs

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes asana as the third of the eight limbs of classical, or Raja Yoga. Asanas are the physical movements of yoga practice and, in combination with pranayama or breathing techniques constitute the style of yoga referred to as Hatha Yoga.[6] In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali describes asana as a "firm, comfortable posture", referring specifically to the seated posture, most basic of all the asanas. He further suggests that meditation is the path to samādhi; transpersonal self-realization. [7]

The eight limbs are, in order, the yamas (restrictions), niyamas (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 (The Hindu Concept of God)).[5][7]

Variety of asanas

In his Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, Swami Vishnu-devananda published a compilation of 66 basic postures and 136 variations of those postures. [8] Sri Dharma Mittra suggested that "there are an infinite number of asanas.", when, in 1975, he set out to catalogue the vast number of asanas in the Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures, as an offering of devotion to his guru, Swami Kailashananda Maharaj. Through this effort, he compiled 1300 variations, derived from gurus, and yogis, as well as both ancient and contemporary texts.[9] Although it is impossible to establish a complete and exact set of yoga postures, this work is considered a leading collection by students and yogis alike.[10][11]

Common practices

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali suggests that the only requirement for practicing asanas is that it be "steady and comfortable".[5] The body is held poised, and relaxed, with the practitioner experiencing no discomfort.

When control of the body is mastered, practitioners free themselves from the duality of heat/cold, hunger/satiety, joy/grief, which is the first step toward the unattachment that relieves suffering. [12] This non-dualistic perspective comes from the Sankya school of the Himalayan Masters. [13]

Students in Utthita Ashwa Sanchalanasana (High lunge)

Listed below are traditional practices for performing asana:.

  • The stomach should be relatively empty.
  • Force or pressure should not be used, and the body should not tremble.
  • 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
  • Such asanas as Sukhasana or Savasana help to reduce headaches.
  • Some claim that asanas, especially inverted poses, are to be avoided during menstruation.[14] Others deny this view.
  • Asanas are generally not performed on floor, but on Yoga mats instead.
  • At the end of the yoga session one must do a deeper, final relaxation. Should not go for a sleep

Pranayama and asana

Pranayama, or breath control, is the Fourth Limb of ashtanga, as set out by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra. The practice is an integral part of both Hatha Yoga and Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga in the execution of asanas.

Patanjali discusses his specific approach to pranayama in verses 2.49 through 2.51, and devotes verses 2.52 and 2.53 of the Sutra, explaining there the benefits of the practice.[15] Patanjali describes pranayama as the control of the enhanced "life force" that is a result of practicing the various breathing techniques, rather than the exercises themselves.[16][17] The entirety of breathing practices, those classified as pranayama, and other is called svarodaya, or the science of Breath. It is a vast practice that goes far beyond the limits of pranayama as applied to asana. [18]

Surya Namaskara

Adho Mukha Svanasana, Sun Salutation no. 5, 8

Surya Namaskara, or the Sun Salutation, is a form of worshiping Surya, the Hindu solar deity by concentrating on the Sun, for vitalization. The physical aspect of the practice 'links together' (Sanskrit: vinyāsa) twelve asanas in a dynamically expressed series. A full round of Surya namaskara is considered to be two sets of the twelve poses, with a change in the second set where the opposing leg is moved first. The asanas included in the sun salutation differ from tradition to tradition.

Benefits of practice

The physical aspect of yoga, the asanas, has been much popularized in the West, and devoted celebrity practitioners like Madonna and Sting have contributed to the increased visibility of the practice. Physically, the practice of asanas is considered to improve:

  • muscle flexibility
  • tendon strength
  • stamina
  • better functioning of respiratory system
  • empirical evidence suggests it helps control blood pressure and other issues related to the functioning of the circulatory system
  • improvement in health problems related to stress[19]
  • It can aid in the improvement of concentration with school, in the workforce, and everyday activities.
  • Can help with dieting and losing weight.

The emphasis on the physical part has given rise to the perception that yoga consists only of asana practice. A more esoteric intention is to facilitate the flow of prana (vital energy; qi in Chinese; ki in Japanese) to aid in balancing the koshas (sheaths) of the physical and metaphysical body.

Depending on the level of mastery, the practitioner of asanas is supposed to achieve many supernatural abilities. For instance, a yogi who has mastered Mayurasana will not be affected by eating any poison.

Some common asanas

See also


  1. ^ Monier-Williams, Sir Monier (1899). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Oxford Clarendon Press, p. 159
  2. ^ a b Feuerstein, Georg (1996). The Shambhala Guide to Yoga. Shambhala Publications, Boston. pp. 26
  3. ^ "Patanjali Yoga sutras" by Swami Prabhavananda , published by the Sri Ramakrishna Math ISBN 81-7120-221-7 p. 111
  4. ^ Verse 46, chapter II; for translation referred: "Patanjali Yoga Sutras" by Swami Prabhavananda , published by the Sri Ramakrishna Math ISBN 81-7120-221-7 p. 111
  5. ^ a b c Patanjali (± 300-200 B.C.) Yoga sutras, Book II:29
  6. ^ Arya, Pandit Usharbudh (aka Swami Veda Bharati) (1977/1985). Philosophy of Hatha Yoga. Himalayan Institute Press, Pennsylvania.
  7. ^ a b Swami Prabhavananda (Translator), Christopher Isherwood (Translator), Patanjali (Author) (1996, 2nd ed.). Vedanta Press.
  8. ^ Vishnu-devananda, Swami (1959) The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga
  9. ^ Mittra, Dharma, (2003) Asanas: 608 Yoga Poses", ISBN 1-57731-402-6
  10. ^ and Dharma is often mentioned among other leading yogis writing on Iyengar Yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, Sivananda Yoga, and other classical and contemporary texts
  11. ^ Yoga Journal, Talking Shop with Dharma MittraDharma Mittra - the master teacher behind the 908 yoga asana poster -shares his insight on the practice
  12. ^ Feuerstein, Georg (2003). The Deeper Dimensions of Yoga: Theory and Practice. Shambhala Publications, Massacheusetts.
  13. ^ Rama, Swami (1980). Living with the Himalayan Masters. Himalayan Institute Press, Pennsylvania; India.
  14. ^ Effect of Inverted Yoga Postures on Menstruation & Pregnancy
  15. ^ Taimni, I. K. (1996). The Science of Yoga. Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House. ISBN 81-7059-212-7.   Eight reprint edition.
  16. ^ Kriyananda, Swami. The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, ISBN 81-208-1876-8
  17. ^ Yogananda, Paramhansa, The Essence of Self-Realization, ISBN 0-916124-29-0
  18. ^ Rama, Swami (1988). Path of Fire and Light, Vols. 1 & 2. Himalayan Institute Press, Pennsylvania; India.
  19. ^ [1]


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