(Last Updated on : 30/05/2012)
Yoga Asana, traditionally, means a `sitting condition` or `position` of the body, which contributes to the steadiness of the body and mind and a sense of well-being. In a nutshell, the yoga asanas can be defined as postural patterns. Asanas are also psycho-physiological attitudes, with many based on the natural postures of various animals, birds or even symbols like the tree, lotus, bow and plough, etc. Some yoga asanas are highly ancient and have been mentioned in several ancient yoga texts.
History of Yoga Asanas
Though it was Maharishi Patanjali, who for the first time mentions yoga asanas, the history of these postural patterns goes back even earlier than the days of Patanjali
. He merely systematised all the information which had been handed down by previous generations. There are references in the Vedas
, Brahmanas, Aranyakas
and the earlier Upanishads
about these practices. Besides, Lord Shiva
and the Buddha are often portrayed sitting in the Padmasana
; thus, indicating that yoga asanas were practised in ancient India as well. The knowledge of these asanas was handed down to the disciples and finally, they were compiled by Patanjali. In the history of yoga asanas, a trend can be observed: prominent yogic practitioners devised dynamic variations on meditative postures and developed a comprehensive physical culture around the same.
Types of Yoga Asanas
Yoga asanas can be classified by considering their anatomico-physiological features and effects, into three major groups, and one minor group that contains only two asanas. Of the major three, the classification into cultural and meditative asanas is a contemporary innovation.
Indian Texts and Yoga Asanas
Indian texts have frequently referred to Yoga in general and Yoga asanas in particular in several contexts. Several special Indian texts have been written and compiled with the sole purpose of educating practitioners about the practice of Yoga asanas.
Yoga asanas were first recorded in the Atharva Veda
(1500 BCE), which uses the term asana in a specifically Yogic context. Several Yogis spanning many generations scrutinized their relative merits by analytical comparisons and thus formulated a complete course of posture training. A few early postures, mostly meditative, in turn passed through a series of modifications before the Yogic system of physical education was finally perfected by the early Hatha Yogins.
Benefits of Yoga Asanas
Yoga Asanas are psycho-physical practices to culture body and mind for further higher practices of yoga like pranayama
, pratyahara, dhyana and so on. Asanas make body and mind healthy and these are trained in such a way that a necessary equilibrium is established in overall functions. Yoga Asanas counteract the instability in the body. This instability or fickleness (tremor) is due to chronic disturbances in the muscular tone, which lead to the imbalance in the muscular activity. This tonic imbalance is corrected and diseases are cured by practicing yoga asanas. They tackle the root cause of the imbalance such as emotional conflicts, stresses, tensions, etc. These also overcome the imbalance in other functions of the body, e.g., endocrinal secretions. Thus, yoga asanas mould our body and mind and make them strong and healthy.
Yoga asanas are a major part of yoga practice and prepare the practitioner for the higher reaches of yoga. They have themselves been refined and perfected over the years through the continued efforts of yogic saints and theorists. Their mention in various literary works (not restricted to Yoga texts) indicates their integral and iconic role in Indian culture and spiritual praxis.