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What is an asana in yoga?

What does the term "asana in yoga" mean? If you practice yoga, you've probably heard the word before. Asanas refer to the physical practice of yoga and the work of the body. The word is used to designate the various yoga postures. There is a wide range of asanas.

To better learn and understand them, it's useful to look at their history, origin and role in yoga. Acquiring this knowledge opens the door to a richer, deeper and more fulfilling practice. For the purpose of yoga is not to perform acrobatic postures, but to unify body, mind and soul.

The place of asanas in the yoga tradition

The asanas are one of the eight pillars of yoga. Yoga also encompasses :

  • yamas (codes of social conduct) ;

  • niyamas (self-respect) ;

  • pranayama (breathing exercises) ;

  • pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) ;

  • dhyana (meditation) ;

  • dharana (concentration) ;

  • samadhi (state of wholeness).

The asanas thus represent just one of the different aspects of the yogic tradition. Originally, asanas were not intended to be practiced alone, but rather to complement other yoga practices.

A yogi can therefore practice breathing exercises, meditation or the observance of social codes of conduct, for example, without having to do any asana in yoga at all. The ultimate goal of yoga is the union of mind, body and soul.

The sequence of yoga postures is a method for achieving a state of inner peace through self-discipline and self-awareness. Yet asanas are only a small part of the totality of yoga knowledge, philosophy and techniques.

The history of asana in yoga?

In Sanskrit, the term "asana" literally translates as "seat". Originally, it refers specifically to meditation postures. The first asanas were simple sitting positions designed to be performed by yogis during meditation.

They were stable, comfortable postures designed to promote concentration, calm the mind and enable you to enter a deep meditative state. Since then, numerous asanas have emerged from the various currents of yoga.

In traditional texts, non-seated postures first appear in the Gheranda Samhita, one of the three great founding treatises of Hatha Yoga, written in the 17th century. Then, in 1966, B. K. S. Iyengar included the asanas created by his teacher Krishnamacharya in his famous book "Light on Yoga".

These asanas are a fusion of traditional Indian wrestling postures and British army calisthenics. In 1974, yoga instructor Sri Dharma Mittra drew up a list of 908 asanas.

Where do the names of yoga postures come from?

Today, the term asana in yoga is more generally translated as pose or posture. It's a suffix added to the end of the name of the yoga postures in Sanskrit.

For example, "tada" means mountain. Tadasana therefore means mountain posture. To better understand the etymology of the postures, it's important to remember that the original yoga traditions came from people who observed nature.

It's therefore common for yoga postures to be named after animals, living creatures, deities and mythological figures. Other postures name body parts, numbers and directions.

This is the case, for example, with "Urdhva prasarita ekapadasana", the posture of the standing splits. "Urdhva" means upwards. "Prasarita" means to stretch or extend. "Eka" is the number one. "Pada" is a foot or leg.

Beginning to identify the structure of Sanskrit nouns adds meaning to your practice. It can also be useful if you travel and take classes abroad.

In both English and French, the translation and interpretation of posture names may vary. Some postures have several names, depending on the yoga traditions from which they originate. You'll also see variations in the spelling of Sanskrit names, as they can be translated in different ways.

What are the benefits asana in yoga?

Asanas are performed to improve flexibility, strength and balance. They strengthen the body's joints, ligaments and muscles through movement.

Regular yoga practice enables you to regain mobility and alignment in the body to facilitate everyday activities. All yoga postures are performed in synchrony with the breath.

Postures are not meant to be simple physical exercises. Rather, they are thought of holistically as a practice aimed at optimizing physical, mental and spiritual health.



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