Asana is a Sanskrit word, it is usually the word given for all yoga postures. Many yoga students and teachers refer to their physical practices as an asana practise. Asana translates from Sanskrit to mean seat or steady pose. However, there is so much more to the term asana (steady pose) than creating different shapes with the body.
Asana the Third Limb
Asana forms the third limb of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The eight limbs reveal a path through the practice of yoga, from personal conduct to liberation or Samadhi the eighth limb. Each limb works with the others enabling the practice to naturally evolve. The eight limbs of yoga are contained within the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The word sutra translates from Sanskrit to mean thread. When exploring Sanskrit words, it is always important to consider that there is so much more to each word than literal translations. Each Sanskrit word reveals an energetic translation, sometimes a phrase or a sensation. For example sutra translates to mean thread, but what is the function of a thread and what does the word thread means to you?
A thread is an object, it can perform many tasks, when woven together with other threads the potential a single thread holds increases. Threads can create many items, some provide support, comfort, protection, warmth, shade and so on. When a single thread is viewed closely, it usually contains other smaller fibres, this reveals that there are many different elements contained within one sutra and also each limb.
Asana - Steady Pose
Each asana provides a steady pose and a solid base to enhance health and vitality. With each position that the body creates, a whole list of benefits can be experienced, such as strength, agility, improved posture, the internal organs are massaged, circulation is enhanced and then each posture brings further spiritual benefits too. Every asana can be explored energetically, through exploring asana in this way, the flow of prana improves and the practise becomes more mindful. By grouping a series of different asanas together a yoga practise is formed and when smoothly flowing through a series of asanas it is possible to create a yoga vinyasa.
Different asanas can be performed to explore some of the other limbs. For example when performing sukhasana also known as the easy pose, it is possible to practise pranayama, through pranayama sense withdrawal (pratyahara) can be accessed, whilst working on asana, pranayama and pratyahara concentration (dharana) becomes easier, the mind can then move naturally into meditation (dhyana) and through meditation it might be possible to obtain a clear mind free from fluctuations and experience a moment of samadhi.
The first two limbs make asana easier, the yamas and niyamas provide a moral code and a guide for good personal conduct. By following the yamas and niyamas the mind will be less distracted when practicing the other limbs.
If we explore one asana at a time we can also see how many smaller elements are contained within each asana. Take a fundamental pose majaryasana (cat) there are so many layers that can be experienced, including alignment, weight distribution, synchronising breath and movement, improving focus and reducing distraction, enhancing flow of prana, aligning chakras, exploring koshas and so the list continues, there is so much to discover within every yoga asana.
Next time you practise asanas why not, take time to explore the many layers within each asana and look for all the ways that you feel the practise connects with the eight limbs of yoga?