Most people think of Yoga as a set of physical postures (poses) and movements that stretch and strengthen the body often referred to by the Sanskrti word "Asana". But Yoga is much more than Asana and Asana is much more than body poses.
Asana practice is an important aspect of some Yoga traditions, particularly Hatha Yoga. Asana originated as the meditational postures adopted by Yogis in pursuit of liberation from the vacillations and perturbations of mind. The names of most Asanas consist of a descriptor followed by "asana". The most common of the original asanas included Padmasana or "Lotus Seat" and Siddhasana or "Perfection Seat". In its most literal translation, "Asana" actually refers to that upon which the Yogi sits. It means "the seat" and refers to the physical attributes of the Yogi's form as well as the energetic characteristics in and from which the Yogi sits.
In the classic "Yoga Sutras", the sage Patanjali defines Asana in Sutra 2.46:
"Sthira sukham asanam"
The physical posture and the mental, emotional and spiritual energy with which the yogi sits should be simultaneously firm and constant while easeful and released.
So Asana practice involves the energy that informs the pose, posture or movement. In fact, it is the cultivation and expression of the underlying energetic basis that is the essential purpose of the physical form. The primary aim and effect of true Asana practice is an energetic condition of easeful constancy conducive to the rising and cultivation of Enlightenment or Awakening.
This essential interpretation carries through into the English "pose" or "posture" which, in addition to connoting a physical stance, also indicates a mental, emotional and spiritual attitude. The fundamental aspiration of the Yogi to sit in relaxed stability encouraged the development of additional physical postures meant to prepare the body and mind for extensive sitting practice. The original sets of Asanas described in Hatha Yoga texts such as "Hatha Yoga Pradipika" by Yogi Svatmarama consisted primarily of variations on the primary sitting postures with some additional preparatory conditioning asanas. Much later, Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) adopted certain aspects of British gymnastics into Asana practice and greatly expanded the range and repertoire of poses and movements. Much of what we know as Yogasana today in the West is relatively modern in origin.
The primary aim and effect of true Asana practice is an energetic condition of easeful constancy conducive to the rising and cultivation of Enlightenment or Awakening.
Enlightenment is frequently conceptualized as a state of mind, but it is better understood and experienced as an energetic condition. Cessation (nirodha) of uninvited mental activities (citta vritti) is an effect of the activation of the Spiritual Energy Body. When the flow of spiritual energy becomes stable and constant as well as effortless and natural, the mind automatically comes to singleness.
Activation and cultivation of the Spiritual Energy Body can be advanced through Asana practice. Manipulation of the physical matter of the body and the development of intrabody connectivity along the muscular and neurological kinetic chains penetrates to the level of the subtle energy body, stimulating the formation of chakras (energy centers), nadis (energy channels) and vayus (energy flows or tides). It assists the "depatterning" process by which physicalized, ingrained, repetitive, habitual and addictive traits are disrupted and dissolved, freeing the flow of these energies.
All other benefits proceed naturally from the liberated flow of spiritual source energy. Secondary and accompanying effects of Asana practice will include overall good health, increased longevity, optimization of physical functioning, emotional release, stress manangement and a beautiful appearance.
Yoga Asana Forms—Purpose and Function
- Conscious cultivation and expression of essential energetic qualities that stimulate and develop the activation, formation and liberation of the Spiritual Energy Body.
- Development of:
- Surrender to the Divine (Ishwara Pranidhana, Sharanam, Bhakti, Prapatti)
- Tapasya (spiritual heat, passion for the Divine)
- Awareness of the Shakti (Divine Power) and its energy centers (chakras), energy flows (vayus) and energy channels (nadis)
- Awareness of the layers of being (koshas)
- Orientation towards inner spiritual life (pratyahara)
- Focus and concentration (dharana)
- Mind/body connectivity and awareness
- Disruption, destabilization, displacement and disentanglement of the psychospiritual neurological patternings (samskaras, vasanas, vritti) that have become stored and established through life in the physical body and the mind (and in the other layers of being) which are manifest in habits, attachments, aversions and addictions and which block and deter spiritual development
- Release of current mental and emotional tension
- Realignment, activation and connectivity of the functional kinetic chains which run through the body
- Healing and elimination of current and past physical trauma
- Stimulation of the organ systems of the body leading to optimized, healthy function
- General physical, emotional and mental well being
- An attractive and healthful physical appearance
The Yogi should learn to use Yoga Asana forms as an important, vital tool of overall spiritual development while simultaneously reaping the benefits of health, relaxation, beauty and general well-being.
(Last Updated and Expanded May 15, 2018)