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World Psychology: Psychology by Country · Psychology of Displaced Persons

Eka-Pada-Rajakapotasana or Single Legged Pigeon

Asana is Sanskrit for "seat". The plural is used to describe yoga postures; "seat" in this context refers not only to the physical position of the body, but to the position of the spirit in relation to divinity. This idea is often referred to as the "one seat", by yogis and Buddhists alike.

Modern usage of the word "asana" in reference to the practice of yoga generally refers to a physical posture or pose. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali describes "asana" as sitting meditation, where meditation is the path to self-realization. "Asana", therefore, means both simple postures and a path to unity of spirit.

Although "asana" originally referred to sitting meditation, its scope has evolved over centuries to cover a great variety of body postures. These postures have their roots in devotion and/or health, but ultimately all are intended to lead back to the possibility of sitting more comfortably in meditation.

The practice of asanas promotes:

It also:

A more esoteric intention is to facilitate the flow of prana (vital energy; qi in Chinese; ki in Japanese) to aid in balancing the koshas (sheaths) of the physical and metaphysical body.

The physical aspect of yoga, the asanas, has been much popularized in the West, and devoted celebrity practitioners like Madonna and Sting have contributed to the increased visibility of the practice. This has given rise to the misconception that yoga consists only of asana practice. Yoga asanas are actually part of Hatha Yoga, which is just one of several different yogic paths.

In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali writes of asana as the third of the 8 limbs of classical yoga (Raja Yoga). These eight limbs are the yamas (obligations), niyamas (devotions), asanas (postures), pranayama (breath work), pratyahara (sense withdrawal or non-attachment), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation),samadhi (realization of the true self and/or unity with god),and Bodhitharta (enlightened over all)

Conditions and general directions for asana practice

Students taking a yoga class

In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali suggests that the only requirement for practising asanas is to be "steady and comfortable". The body should be held firm yet relaxed, and the practitioner should not experience discomfort of any kind. Tightness or tension observed within the body should be consciously relaxed. Breathing should be natural, through the nose and into the belly. This abdominal breathing (pranayama) is called "ujjayi" (pronounced oo-JI-ya), or "ocean breath". Ujjayi means "lifted up".

According to yoga practitioners, when bodily control is mastered, they are free from what they call the "pairs of opposites", such as heat and cold, hunger and thirst, joy and grief. This non-dualistic perspective comes from the Sankya school of the Himalayan Masters.

Listed below are traditional directions for performing asana:

  • A glass of fresh water should be taken before performing asanas.
  • The stomach should be empty. Asanas can be performed 8 hours after a meal, 2 hours after a glass of milk and one hour after eating fruit.
  • Asanas should always be performed early in the morning. If this is not possible, the next best time would be evening, around dusk.
  • The following should be avoided: rich food, very dry food, very hot food, left-overs, and over-eating.
  • Force or pressure should not be used while performing asanas.
  • One should not go out in the cold after performing asanas.
  • Lower the head and other parts of the body slowly; in particular, raised heels should be lowered slowly.
  • The breathing should be controlled and always through the nose. The benefits of asanas increase if pranayama is performed simultaneously.
  • If the body is stressed, perform savasana (corpse pose).
  • Asanas should be performed in a well-lit, clean and ventilated room. The atmosphere should be peaceful.
  • Light physical exercises, followed by asanas, pranayama and meditation is the ideal sequence.

Some claim that asanas, especially inverted poses, are to be avoided during menstruation.

Others deny this view and hold that:

  • the above view originated in ancient asana practice (from which women were banned completely) and was used to subjugate women when they were allowed to practice
  • inversion has no detrimental effect on menstruation
  • some modern teachers recommend asanas for relief from cramps during menstruation.

Other points of view assert that:

  • exercises requiring the practitioner to lie prone are to be avoided during pregnancy after the first trimester
  • inverted poses should be avoided, especially in the third trimester.

See also [1].

Yoga asanas

"There are an infinite number of yoga asanas." (Sri Dharma Mittra)

In 1975, as an offering of devotion to his guru, Swami Kailashananda Maharaj, Sri Dharma Mittra set out to catalogue the vast number of yoga asanas. From ancient texts, books, students, teachers, and his own knowledge, he compiled 1300 variations. These were originally published as the Master Yoga Chart, and 608 of these postures were recently made available in a small compendium entitled, "Asanas: 608 Yoga Poses" by Dharma Mittra (New World Library; 2003 ISBN 1-57731-402-6). Although there is no way to establish an exact set of postures, this work is considered the definitive collection by students and yogis alike.

Along with the above-mentioned resource, there is a wealth of knowledge on this subject available in books, and on the Internet. It is best, however, to begin under the direction of an experienced, and hopefully certified, yoga instructor. Such a person can observe the execution of postures, as well as providing more in-depth instruction to aid in both basic practice, and the practitioner's development as a student.

Injuries can occur when excessive pressure is placed on the cervical vertebrae (e.g., during the "plow pose" or the headstand) or when the spine is out of normal alignment and pressure is applied (e.g., during the "bow" pose or the "wheel" pose). The practice of these postures may damage the intervertebral discs and may cause other long-term injuries. The practitioner should feel free to abstain from performing any pose if in doubt as to its safety.

See also

  • List of Hatha Yoga Postures
  • Shoulderstand

External links

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