(Last Updated on : 20/05/2014)
Yoga Asanas are classified into various types based on a number of specific parameters. The most significant contemporary classification of Yoga Asanas is their division into meditative and cultural asanas. However, the classical yoga texts did not use this classificatory paradigm.
Most of the treatises in the Yogic canon assert that their asanas are a selection from the 84 Classic Yoga Asanas taught by Lord Shiva, and do not further subdivide their asanas into any other category. Meditative asanas are those that aid in the yogi's meditative and concentration practices, and often involve a comfortable, straight-backed pose that allows the practitioner to sit or stand still while meditating. Cultural asanas are called as such because they form part of a physical culture, developing and maintaining the muscles at optimal strength and flexibility. More on the classifications follow.
84 Classic Yoga Asanas
Many classic Yogic texts mention 84 Classic Yoga Asanas
taught by Lord Shiva
, who is part of the divine Hindu trinity (along with the gods Brahma and Vishnu). Some of these asanas are considered highly important in the yogic canon: texts that do mention the eighty-four invariably single out the first four as necessary or vital to attain yogic perfection. However, not more than five or so asanas have been mentioned by name in many of these texts, and the complete list of Shiva's asanas remains unknown.
Patanjali's Yoga Sutra does not mention even a single asana by name, merely specifying the characteristics of a good asana, and it does not attribute any postures to Shiva. Later yoga texts however, do mention the 84 Classic Asanas and associate them with Shiva.
The Goraksha Samhita or Goraksha Paddhathi is considered the oldest extant Hatha Yogic text, and describes the origin of the 84 classic asanas. Observing that there are as many postures as there are beings, and that there are 840000 species in all, the text states that Lord Shiva fashioned an asana for each 100000, thus giving us 84 in all, although it mentions and describes only two in detail: the Siddhasana
and the Padmasana
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika specifies that of these 84, the first four i.e. the Siddhasana
are highly important. In the The Shiva Samhita the third and fourth asanas are different; namely the Ugrasana
and the Swastikasana
. The Hatha Ratnavali (1600 AD) is one of the earliest texts to attempt a listing of all the 84, although 4 out of its list do not have meaningful translations from the Sanskrit and 21 are merely mentioned without any description. In all, 52 asanas of the Hatha Ratnavali are confirmed (and described) either by the text itself or other asana compendia.
It must be stressed that older texts do not make a distinction between meditative and cultural asanas, and do not describe (or even mention) all the 84 asanas of Shiva. In the classic texts, all the asanas form part of a general regimen of spiritual and physical development.
are intended to prepare the practitioner to stay for prolonged periods of time without moving the body and without distress. When the body is steady and still for a long period, only then is meditation truly experienced. Deep meditation requires the spinal column to be straight. In higher stages of meditation, the practitioner loses control over the muscles of the body. Initially, people find it difficult to sit in one asana for a long period. However, through regular practice, the legs and hips become flexible enough to comfortably maintain a steady posture. Some of the meditation asanas include Sukhasana
Meditative Yoga Asanas are highly important in the yogic tradition, and some of them have a very ancient history. Meditative asanas formed the core around which the more physically oriented cultural asanas were devised by yogic theorists. A few meditative asanas are cited in diverse classical texts as the first postures amongst the 84 classic asanas taught by Lord Shiva, thus conferring upon them very high spiritual status.
are meant for culturing the body and mind. These postures are primarily aimed at maintaining an ideal balance between strength and flexibility in the body muscles, thereby keeping the body healthy. Most of the Yoga Asanas come under the contemporary classification of cultural postures. Cultural Yoga Asanas keep the circulatory system in efficient condition, which ensure constant supply of proper nourishment and of the internal secretions of the endocrine glands, elements necessary for nourishment of tissues. Thyroid, pituitary and the pineal glands are kept active by Yoga asanas like Sirsasana
. The smooth functioning of the digestive system requires the gentle and automatic massage of the digestive organs. Cultural postures like Bhujangasana
and Ardha Matsyendrasana
are effective in keeping the abdominal organs in proper health.