The word asana is literately translated as ‘seat’ or a ‘pose/posture’. The meaning in yoga suggested here is the posture. Inner journey of self realization begins with the physical postures, asana. This is one of the limbs of yoga where one develops awareness towards body, strengthens it and utilizes it for the spiritual purpose. Yogic postures are different from just the regular posture as they have some purpose and goal to achieve. How many postures are there? Yogic book mentions 84,000,00 asanas the number signifies the species available on earth. There are cultural, meditative and relaxative asanas. The postures have come from from observation of surrounding, animals, birds, trees and other living and non living things on the earth. In Maharshi Patanjali’s Ashatanga Yog asana stands as the third limb towards self realization. Body stands the first as it is the vehicle of the spirit, when the body is ready one can proceed towards the inner practices like meditation.
Maharishi Patanjali gives the philosophical description of asana and it’s outcome in Pantanjal Yog Sutra where as Swami Swatmaram gives the procedure, benefits & contraindication of the asanas in Hathayog Pradipika and some other traditional authors on yoga like Gherand Sanhita, Hatharatnavali etc.
What is the importance of asana in Yoga?
Yogic postures are meant for improving stability, suppleness and strength in body. When one gets control over the body becomes easy to train the mind.
अथ आसनम हठस्य परथमाङ्गत्वादासनं पूर्वमुछ्यते कुर्यात्तदासनं सथैर्यमारोग्यं चाङ्गलाघवम || १९|| Asanas are described as first because they are the first step of Hatha (HathaYoga). They give steadiness, health and lightness of body.
The goal of asana is स्थिरसुखमासनम् ‘Sthir Sukham Asanam’ (Patanjali Yog Sutra Ch. 2:46) The posture should be steady and at ease.
Through the regular practice one gains
प्रयत्नशैथिल्यानन्तसमापत्तिभ्याम् | The key to success in this regard is practice with effort, which becomes progressively easier, combined with deep contemplation. (1:47)
ततो द्वङ्द्वानभिघातः | This results in a victory over the duality of life. (1:48)
On a physical level there are numerous benefits that have been proven by the medical science few of them to name will be flexibility, strength, stamina, physical relaxation and balance. One must clearly understand that yoga is a preventive science. It does help to cure certain physical and mental problems as well. Asanas stimulate various systems of the body including circulatory, immune and digestive system. On the subtle level they stimulate the energetic body, creating free flow of prana (vital energy) in body. There are postures today done with flow or with hold.
Asanas are to be practiced along with breath and with awareness to get to know the body better and improve the awareness of this physical body and it also gives benefits on psycho-physical level. They are best to be done in the morning with an empty stomach. They are one of the sources of getting the body detoxified. Asanas are more effective when the body and mind is in unison. Asanas are in different forms, like standing, sitting, on the stomach and on the back. These asanas are providing six types of exercise to spine to gain flexibility; asanas are directly working on the digestive system to make it function in a proper way. Every asana has a thought and connection with body, nature and mind. More importantly asanas bring perfect alignment to the body. Yoga is a skillful science thus when one finds oneness in practices that is the time one has success in asanas. Today in the western world most of the sadhakas are giving most importance to asanas than the other practices in yoga.
To conclude, asanas are the first to begin with towards healthy body for the higher spiritual purpose. When body is healthy mind is healthy. So get prepared on your mat to do your asanas to find physical and mental health.