Today, we’re coming at you with the third and most famous limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga system: Asana. Often confused with yoga itself, Asana is, for many people, a privileged entry point to yoga, especially in our western society. When we say we go to a yoga class, we actually mean Asana class; for Asana means posture. Though many of us started yoga through the practice of Asana, we now know that this isn’t the first but the third limb of Ashtanga Yoga. First Yama, then Niyama, and only then comes Asana. Of course, Patanjali’s ordering of the limbs isn’t random; the first prepare for the next one. So what do asanas prepare us for?
Asana Brings You One Step Closer to Pranayama and Meditation
If we take the very meaning of Asana in Sanscrit, it doesn’t mean a headstand or splits, but a comfortable seat. Patanjali indeed describes Asana as acquiring the ability to hold a seated position – such as Padmasana (lotus pose), Virasana (hero pose), Mandukasana (frog pose) – comfortably and motionlessly.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika almost exclusively mentions seated asanas, for how can we meditate if we can’t stay steaded in a pain-free manner for several minutes? Asanas help to free the body from physical tensions and energetical blockings. Therefore, we prepare the body for the practice of Pranayama – breathing techniques to gain control of prana (life force) – and Dhyana – the art of Meditation.
A Way to Align the Body, Mind, and Soul
Yoga works on what we call the Five Koshas (Five Sheaths). It helps the student go inward, deeper and deeper, from the thickest layer – the physical body – to the most subtle – the inner “true” self. Let’s have a quick reminde, shall we?
- Annamaya Kosha: Anna means food. This sheath refers to the physical body, maintained through nutrition and Asana practice.
- Pranamaya Kosha: This sheath refers to the prana – life force – and our inner energy flows. It is the energetical body we access through the practice of Pranayama.
- Manomaya Kosha: Mana means the mind. This sheath deals with the mental body maintained through Dhyana – Meditation.
- Vijnanamaya Kosha: The knowledge sheath consists of emotions, intuition, perception and is maintained through Meditation as well.
- Annadamaya Kosha: This is our innermost sheath, referred to as bliss or true self.
Through the practice of Asana, we then tackle the first layer to gain the body consciousness necessary to then move on to more subtle practices. We free our body from its patterns through asanas, opening a new horizon of sensations and emotions. Keeping the body healthy is a mandatory milestone, the first stage before yielding oneself to stillness. Only when the body is free from pain can we start appreciating meditative practices for what they are. Beyond the physical aspect, a regular Asana practice also teaches us discipline and concentration.
Now that we’re clear on Asana stay tuned to learn about Pranayama, our next Yoga Essential! Only four more limbs to go 😉
In the meantime, you want to learn more asanas? Then start building a yoga practice you love, at your own pace, with MyPause Yoga app.
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