In the previous article, I spoke a little about the history and science of yoga. Continuing from there, we shall move to the next aspect of yoga (the most popular aspect) – asanas. Today, almost every one has seen or heard of at least one asana. So, it’s not an entirely new concept. But in this article, let us delve more into the asana aspect of yoga.
WHAT IS ASANA?
The word ‘asana’ is a Sanskrit word which means ‘seat’. In his book, the Yoga Sutras, Sage Patanjali describes it as a seat that is steady and firm so the practitioner can be comfortable for a long period of time. Asanas constitute the third limb of Ashtanga Yoga and prepare the practitioner for later stages like pranayama, pratyahara etc.
In simple terms, asana is a posture that involves the participation of various parts of the body. To perform it correctly, you have to stretch, bend, and twist your body in various ways. Therefore, asana is the ‘practical aspect’ of yoga.
The yogis and sages of ancient India are said to have discovered asanas. Fascinated and inspired by all living and non-living beings around them, they tried to mould their own bodies into shapes similar to that of the living and non-living beings. Therefore, you have a variety of yoga asanas. Each of them inspired either from a living being like an insect, animal or bird or a non-living being like a chair or a stick.
The sages tried to not just perform them, but also to imbibe the qualities and nature of that being into their own selves. For instance, if they practiced warrior pose, they tried to feel strong and powerful like a warrior. Similarly, if they practiced lotus pose, they remembered the quality of a lotus – to be pure despite it’s rise from muddy waters.
Here are some examples of asanas inspired from the world around us:
– vrikshasana – tree,
– utkatasana – chair,
– padmasana – lotus,
– virbhadrasana – warrior,
– trikonasana – triangle,
– simhasana – lion,
– shalabhasana – grasshopper and so on.
These are just a few examples, there are many more such inspirations.
There are various categories:
– Standing asanas,
– Sitting asanas
– Forward bending asanas,
– Backward bending asanas,
– Inverted asanas,
– Supine asanas and so on.
Under each category, there are a number of asanas. They range from simple to intermediate and then advanced level of asanas. Of course, every practitioner moves slowly and gradually from one stage of practice to another. Each category of asana must be practiced to gain strength in the body and mind. When practiced together in a sequential manner, they bring lightness, alertness and firmness to the body and mind.
– Makes the body strong, supple and flexible.
– Prevents as well as cures diseases.
– Gives calmness to the nerves.
– Increases concentration and improves balance.
– Makes one cheerful and enthusiastic.
This practice is not just beneficial for the muscular-skeletal body but it also positively impacts the physiological body (the various systems) and the mind.
They are an integrated science. Performing them does not require just one or two muscle groups. It requires the participation of the whole body. Smaller as well as larger muscles are used in the performance and practice of them. Therefore, the practice of asanas is a holistic way to keep the body and mind fit and healthy.
As I’d like to say, An asana a day, keeps the doctor away!
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