Asana is the third limb of the 8 limbs of yoga, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It refers to the practice of physical postures to improve the ability to concentrate and develop discipline.
What is the Meaning of Asana in English?
Although many people might consider yoga postures as asanas, the term asana originally had a completely different meaning. In Sanskrit, the word asana means seat, and refers to finding a comfortable position to sit for meditating (or Dhyana) and practicing pranayama.
Why Should I Practice Asanas?
According to Sage Patanjali, one can only begin to focus on the mind and one’s thoughts once the body has found a position that does not cause restlessness, pain, or body ache. According to the 8-fold path, it is important to first be at peace with one’s surroundings, and then, focus inward to seek enlightenment. It is simply not possible to achieve a higher state of being and understanding without a healthy body. The asanas, or yoga poses, are a tool for achieving the strength, balance and flexibility to achieve this higher state.
Patanjali describes the most important asana practice as sthira sukham asanam, or a sthirasukhasana, which when translated from Sanskrit to English, means a posture or position in which the yoga practitioner feels “steady and comfortable.” It is believed that once body control is mastered, practitioners are freed from dualities such as heat and cold, hunger and satiety, or joy and grief.
Purpose of Asanas and the Secret to a Long Life
Have you ever pondered over the meaning of life and wondered about its meaning? Why do we wake up in the morning? Why do we continue living? Although there are no conclusive answers to life’s deepest questions, everyone has their own answers based on their faith, understanding, and beliefs.
Ikigai: The Secret to Living a Longer, Healthier Life
The concept of ikigai (生き甲斐), pronounced ick-ee-guy, is the answer to these questions – according to the Japanese. Translating to ‘a reason for being’ or ‘the reason to jump out of bed each morning’, ikigai is a union of what you love to do, what you are good at, and doing something that is sustainable for a happy and healthy life.
The Japanese island of Okinawa currently has the largest number of centenarians (people who live to be 100 or more) in the world and is classified as 1 of 7 blue zones in the world (places where people live exceptionally long lives). Their secret to longevity? They believe in following their ikigai to lead happy and fulfilling lives.
Science of Living a Longer Life: How to Live to be 100 or More
In fact, research done by the Tohoku University in Japan scientifically concluded that people who followed the concept of ikigai lived longer than those who did not, and are at lower risk of death or heart disease. Okinawans believe the secret to longevity is to live life in accordance with the concepts of ikigai, moai and hara hachi bu.
Find your purpose for being alive. This should not be something that society expects from you, rather it should be something you are good at, something you love to do, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for doing. Once you’ve found your ikigai, follow it with a positive attitude along with a sense of calm.
Staying active and making exercise & physical activity a part of daily life is a key aspect of the concept of ikigai. This is where asanas come into the picture. Practicing asanas on a regular basis and making yoga practice a daily ritual helps keep the body flexible, strong and balanced – thus, ensuring a longer, healthier life.
The concept of moai refers to having a support system for spiritual, health, financial or social needs. Find people who share your purpose in life and meet them on a regular basis. Being social with your support network and surrounding yourself with the right kinds of people is an essential aspect of moai.
Hara Hachi Bu
The concept of hara hachi bu involves eating until you are 80% full. This is because it takes the brain at least 10-20 minutes to realize that the stomach is full. Thus, if you are 80% full, it means that you are 100% full in actuality. Eating a plant-based diet with a highly-varied vegetable diet is also an essential part of hara hachi bu.
Why Asanas Work: Benefits of Yoga Asanas
The scientific benefit of asanas (or practicing yoga poses) can be explained by understanding what happens to our body when we exercise. When we do an intense workout, the body produces high levels of cortisol, which is the stress hormone that helps the body deal with stressful situations by triggering the ‘fight-or-flight’ response.
Although it is beneficial for us in dangerous situations, research indicates when high levels of cortisol remain in the body for a prolonged period of time, it can lead to a wide variety of health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, mood swings, and difficulty sleeping, amongst others. However, moderate exercise on a regular basis helps decrease the levels of cortisol in the body over time.
Okinawans include yoga practice into their daily routine as part of their concept of ikigai to stay healthy and live happier, more fulfilling lives. Practicing yoga asanas ensures they stay active by exercising regularly and being optimally active, thus reducing cortisol levels, and consequently, reducing mental stress.
This is why it is much healthier to do a 45-minute yoga session rather than 45 minutes of intense exercise at the gym. What’s the proof, we hear you ask? The longevity of Okinawans is the best indicator of the health benefits of yoga asanas. As part of their ikigai, Okinawans go for a morning walk (thus indulging in moderate activity) and practice yoga rather than going to a gym for an intensive workout. Similarly, walking atleast 10,000 steps a day does not ensure a healthier body. However, an hour of yoga combined with 4500-6000 steps ensures a healthy body.
Types of Yoga Poses (Asanas)
There are many types of yoga asanas based on the position of the body and its limbs:
– Standing (Parsvakonasana)
– Sitting (Siddhasana)
– Reclining (Shavasana)
– Inverted (Sirsasana)
– Balancing (Kukkutasana)
– Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
– Backbend (Dhanurasana)
– Twisting (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
– Hip-Opening (Gomukhasana)
– Core Strength (Navasana)
How Many Asanas Are There?
There are believed to be 84 asanas. However, as the practice of Yoga evolved and other types of yoga variations began to emerge, the list of asanas expanded – with each pose having various sub-poses. For example, Iyengar Yoga describes 200 asanas, with 50 main asanas along with their variations. Asana variations might seem difficult to memorize, an easy tip for memorizing asana variations is to remember that an asana variation is simply a combination of prefix + main asana in Sanskrit.
An interesting fact is that 84 is a very symbolic number in Hindu philosophy, and is considered spiritual in nature. It is a symbol of connecting with a divine power through spiritual enlightening and awakening. It is believed that a soul takes birth 8.4 million times, or 84 lakh times, before being born as a human (1 lakh = 100,000). Spiritualists believe that 84 is symbolic due to its numerological and astrological properties, as it is 7 (number of planets according to astrology) multiplied by 12 (number of zodiac signs).
In numerology, 84 is also an angel number, or a number one starts seeing again and again to such an extent that one starts to find meaning in its occurrence (and attributing the synchronicity to a higher power). The angel number 84 signifies and success and abundance through creativity and diligence.
How to Start Practicing Asanas
To start the practice of asanas, choose easy beginner yoga poses that you are able to attain without any difficulty instead of trying advanced yoga poses. Whatever pose you choose, try to find balance – both internal and external – in every pose.
5 Yoga Asanas You Should Know
Do I Need Yoga Equipment to Practice Asanas?
You might have seen a good deal of online yoga practitioners using a variety of yoga equipment such as yoga mats, blocks, blankets, chairs, belts, bolsters, and even, pro yoga pants when practicing yoga poses.
Usually the purpose of yoga equipment is:
– Providing stability and grip (such as yoga mats)
– Help with alignment
– Allow poses to be held for longer periods of time
– To enable people who are restricted in some way to continue their yogic practice (such as chairs)
Thus, if you are a beginner looking to practice yoga at home, you simply need a quiet place to sit comfortably, a water bottle, and perhaps, a towel. There really is no need for buying yoga equipment. However, having a yoga mat and being dressed in yoga pants can allow for better grip and more flexibility when practicing asanas.