What Are Yoga Asanas?
You might have heard the term asanas before, but what are they really?
Asana is a Sanskrit term which is traditionally defined as “posture” or “pose.” Asana can also be translated as “a steady, comfortable seat,” particularly for the purpose of meditation.
Many people equate asana with the act of performing fancy, advanced poses. However, anyone of any level of experience can practice asanas (whether beginner, intermediate, or advanced).
Asana practice is considered important by yogis because it helps to keep the physical body healthy. Given that the body is the vehicle for the spirit, looking after the physical body is important for spiritual development. Practicing asanas can also have a range of emotional and energetic benefits, increase discipline and concentration, and ready the mind for meditation.
The History of Yoga Asanas
Asanas do appear in the ancient Indian texts. Lord Shiva is seen as the first yogi or Adiyogi, and the first Guru or Adi Guru. Shiva is known as the Lord of Dance and the Lord of Yoga and He is so often seen sitting in repose.
He appears in the Puranas which are mentioned in the Atharvaveda and the Satapatha Brahmana texts. There are also references to the Puranas in the Upanishads.
Shiva taught the Seven Great Sages (Saptarishis) who had attained a semi-immortal status, which was an exceedingly long life span due to their Yogic powers and by the power of their penance. These Saptarishis are extolled at many places in the Vedas and Hindu literature, the earliest list of the Seven Rishis is given by Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana or the Talavakara Upanishad Brahmana which is a Vedic text.
Doing Yoga As Selfless Action
In the Bhagavad Gita, for instance, the word asana is used to mean seat. Yoga is expounded in Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita where Arjuna is encouraged by Krishna to act without attachment to the results or fruit of action and activity. It is the yoga of selfless action and service.
In this text we see the early nature of Yoga sadhana. We find its more explicit explanation which has elaborately presented the concept of Gyan yoga, Bhakti yoga and Karma Yoga. These three types of yoga are still the highest example of human wisdom and and even to day people find peace by following the methods as shown in the Gita.
Another ancient source, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, describes fourteen postures (asanas) eleven of which are seated postures. It recommends four of them above all others: Siddhasana, Padmasana (Lotus Pose), Simhasana (Lion Pose), and Bhadrasana. These are all seated meditation postures. Other ancient asanas are the Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) and Pranamasana (Prayer pose.)
Patanjalis Yoga Sutras
A very famous yoga text is the Yoga Sutras by the Rishi Patanjali. These were compiled prior to 400 CE by Patanjali, taking materials about yoga from older traditions. In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali offers us Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold or Eightlimbed Yoga) which describes the eight limbs that together constitute Raja Yoga. Of these eight limbs the third is Asana.
Patanjali describes asana as ‘what is steady and pleasant’ or ‘Motionless and Agreeable form (of staying) is Asana (yoga posture.)’ He talks very much about the importance of meditation and the right ways for the yogi.
Patanjalis text has been translated many times and still remains very popular today.
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