According to the Patanjali, “Sthir Sukhasanam”, which means “The posture in which one can sit for an indefinite period comfortably is called ‘Asana’ .”
In Patanjali’s Ashtang yoga, after Yama and Niyama, the third limb is Asana or posture.
Asana brings steadiness, health and flexibility to all body parts, which ultimately bring mental equipoise and peace. They are altogether different from gymnastic exercises. Unlike games and gymnastic exercises, Asanas do not require any infrastructure, facility or equipments. They can be performed alone and anywhere without any specific preparation, the only prerequisites being a small blanket, clean and airy space and determination. Asanas help to attain a healthy mind and body, instilling one with vitality and poise.
The body is conquered by the Yogi by the practice of Asanas and made a fit vehicle for the soul.
Asanas/ Postures are grouped into three categories:
- Meditative Asanas
- Asanas providing mental tranquility
- Asanas providing physical strength
Postures like Vajrasana, Padmasana, Siddhasana fall in the first category. These are practiced before meditation, the postures being suitable for the same. The second group of postures like Shavasana bring about composure and tranquility and helps in preventing fickleness of mind. The third group of postures like Dhanurasana, Bhujangasana, Ardhamatsyendrasana help in developing physical strength and flexibility.
Asanas as a system have been evolved over the centuries, so as to exercise every muscle, nerve and gland in the body. Every asana consists of three stages: coming into the prescribed pose, holding it or keeping stationary, and then coming out of it. They should be performed slowly, steadily and with patience. One should try to keep still, while maintaining the pose and breathe slowly and deeply, concentrating one’s mind on breathing alone. Once the ability to relax in a particular pose is achieved, one can adjust the position to achieve a greater stretch.
Asanas are to be practiced for the systematic use of different muscles to enhance coordination of physical, mental and visceral (related to organs) aspects of the body. In fact, regular practice of Yogasanas helps in controlling various diseases, improving physical fitness, enhancing flexibility of various joints, increasing immunity and toning up key organs like the kidneys, lungs, intestine, liver and skin to keep them function normal.. It also helps in breaking down excess fat and increase blood circulation. Yogasanas help to increase the coronary blood flow, oxygen assimilation and ease the flow of Pran (Vital) energy to the whole body.
Asanas should be practiced by individuals keeping in mind the age, capacity and the disease(s) he is inflicted with. They should be performed on an empty stomach and the final position should be maintained with deep and slow breathing. The time limit of retaining the final posture depends on one’s capacity, which can be increased gradually.
According to recent scientific studies, in addition to providing comfortable postures for concentration (Dhyana) and meditation (Samadhi), asanas act as catalysts, triggering various useful physiological, biochemical and mental changes in the body. These changes include loss in body weight, decreased respiratory rate, increased vital capacity of lungs, increased chest expansion, decreased blood glucose level, decreased blood cholesterol level, increased blood protein level, improved functioning of endocrine glands, enhancement of memory, efficiency and decreased mental fatigue, anxiety.