What is Asana?

Saturday, 05 September 2020 18:16

What is asana?

It is a challenge to create a clear definition of yogasana. The word asana means ‘to sit’. From the outside it looks like a bodily exercise and is generally understood to mean a posture or pose. But is it more than a physical experience? Find out more about this enigmatic third limb of the eight limbs of Yoga...
Asana is A Posture?
The way we understand posture in our everyday lives is we are either standing, seated or lying down. And yet when we practice asana, such as the one shown here, it is somewhere between all three. 
Photograph above: An attempt at Eka Pada Galavasana (Eka=one, Pada=leg, Galava is the name of a sage)
Mostly, when we are standing, sitting or lying down we are also involved with doing something else. So our minds are not focused on our bodies. This is where the clear distinction lies. In asana we are fully engaged with what we are doing. Our minds are concentrating on our bodies.
Asana is A Pose?
BKS Iyengar: “Asana is a process of posing and reposing through which by balancing its involutionary movement the mind reaches the state of tranquillity.”
So he uses the word ‘pose’, I think because either there is no other better translation or that is the word that is commonly used in English. But it’s not like the artificial placement of the body for a certain external visual affect. (Think Madonna and the song/film clip Vogue - Strike a pose). The word in yogic understanding relates to the careful placement of the parts of the body to create the form of a particular asana. The repose aspect is the state of adjusting to create balance.
Asana is A Balance?
Through a process of learning the sequence of asanas, we find a firm foundation to create balance. Balance can be seen on many levels. A balance in the asana could mean that you simply don’t fall over. A balance in asana is developing an even distribution of energy, for example, the front and backs of your legs are evenly engaged, or your mind is calm and breath even in Virabhadrasana 2. It is also about not over-doing or under-doing. It’s about finding that fine balance. 
Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana (Ardha=half, Baddha=bound, Padma=Lotus, Uttan=intense stretch)
This type of balance of energy is learnt over time, so therefore there is a process. There is a deliberate building in understanding. With Iyengar Yoga there is method in learning. There is a progression in understanding and in the order of learning the asanas. 
A balance is found between the mind, the body and the soul. The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root word ‘yujir’ meaning to yoke, to join the body to the mind then to the soul. Unity. 
Asana is A Seat?
Historically, many of the asanas appearing in the ancient texts were seated asanas. With the pinnacle being Padmasana (Lotus Pose). These seated asanas being primarily for pranayama (breath exercises) and dhyana(meditation) for long durations. The practice of the range of asanas now presented to us by BKS Iyengar give us the freedom in the hips and strength of spine to maintain a seated position to explore our pranayama and meditation.
However, we also ‘sit in’ our asanas even if it’s a challenging standing asana, for example. This means our mind is clear and in a quiet state. It is in a meditative state. Giving us clues on how asana can be meditation. Our minds are equanimous.
In The Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna describes yoga: Equanimity is yoga, Yoga is skilfulness in action. 
Asana should be Steady and Delightful?
Patanjali’s Sutra 2.46 and 2.47 describe how an asana should be, what the effect of asana is. This is not the definition of what an asana is. Yogasana is an experience. You have a different experience to that of someone else. So, to some degree, you have to find your own way, but this concept doesn’t provide much in the way of direction, so misdirection could easily occur. So direction on how an asana should be gives us a road in to our method of practice. As BKS Iyengar says in his commentary on Sutra 2.47: 
‘When the sadhaka [student of yoga] has reached that state of balance, attention, extension, diffusion and relaxation take place simultaneously in body and intelligence, and they merge in the seat of the soul.’
Explore the realm of your asana and what it means to you.
Get on your mat :)
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