Asanas are the postures/body positions of a yoga practice. Many people consider the asanas themselves to be yoga, however this is not the case. The word ‘yoga’ actually refers to the union of mind and body, and the union of individual consciousness and universal/higher consciousness (see my blog article – What is Yoga?) As well as asana practice, there are many other yogic practices, including meditation, pranayamas and kriyas. In Sanskrit, Asanam means the posture, the place where you sit, seat. As = to sit. Asanas are postures that are both steady and comfortable. Patanjali emphasised the importance of seated asanas, postures that prepare the body for sitting for extended periods of time in meditation. For many (including myself) asana practice is what brought them to yoga. From a traditional viewpoint, asana practice is the beginning of the yoga journey, and once the body is cleansed and open, this physical practice is no longer required. When one has reached this stage, one is beyond the physical level and can begin to enjoy the subtler levels of being, through meditation practices.
The many benefits of an asana practice
Yoga’s asanas have a profound impact on our entire bodies and minds. Asana practice not only works on our muscular and skeletal systems, but also our other bodily systems for example; it calms and balances the nervous system, aids digestion, improves circulation, improves the functioning of the endocrine system and improves detoxification through the excretory system (to name just a few!). And the therapeutic effects of asanas are slowly becoming more widely recognized, with yoga therapy becoming increasingly popular.
Groups of Asanas
Asanas can generally be grouped into 10 groups: standing, forward bends, backward bends, twists, balances, hip openers, inversions, restorative, supine lying and prone lying. Habits that we have developed in our postures in our day to day lives can be corrected with a regular asana practice. For example, if we are used to hunching over a computer screen all day, a practice with a few back bends would be beneficial. Or if we have been on our feet all day, practicing inversions (like shoulder stand, or simply putting our legs against the wall) will help to relax and soothe our tired legs. Asanas help to correct imbalances in the body, and bring a calm and focused mind. To find our how to do some of the asanas, click here