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Yoga Asana

The meaning and synonyms of the term "asana"

आसन āsana

In colloquial Sanskrit, asana is a chair or any seat.
In Sanskrit of the Kama Sutras and other Kama Shastras, asana is a position in sex.
In the texts about the structure of a state, asana is a position.

In yoga texts, asana is a posture.
In the language of modern yoga, asana is a posture or exercise.

The word is formed from the root आस् ās "sit" , with the suffix ana, which creates the name of the action. That is, literally, asana - sitting


асаны майсорского дворца | Шри-таттва-ниддхи

Exercises for the body in hatha yoga texts were not only called “asana”.

They were also called mudra (seal), kriya (action) and pitha (sitting).

From the 17th century, the number of asanas began to increase, although their names are still not universal.
Some yoga schools had their own unique lists of asanas, which had no analogues in the yoga mainstream.
For example, the 17th century text “Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati”, with which D. Birch worked as part of the hatha yoga project at SOAS, contains a list of exercises that, neither in technique nor in name, are similar to anything common in modern yoga. By the way, many of the exercises given in this text are dynamic. These are balances – swinging in strength building asanas, specific push-ups, etc. Hangers and ropes are also used. This is probably one of the earliest texts in which dynamic and very demanding exercises appeared. Dynamic complexes such as modern Ashtanga yoga are even younger.

Also in the text "Sri-tattva-nidhhi" we see asanas under the usual names, but performed in a completely different way from what we are used to. The picture shows Dhanurasana.

History of asanas

Asana appears already in the Yoga Sutra, as a convenient posture for meditation without an additional name.

Next, Goraksha-shataka writes about two asanas – siddhasana and padmasana (which are also clearly intended for meditation)

At the same time, in Kama Shastra, the names of asanas familiar to us are “padmasana”, “simhasana” – the names of the poses of love.

Sharada-tilaka-tantra and Dattatreya-yoga-shastra already write about five asanas and mudras, respectively.

The first Hatha Yoga texts (Goraksha Yoga Shastra and Amritta Siddhi) do not describe asanas at all.

Since the Middle Ages, asanas have begun to receive more primary attention. There are 8 asanas in the Sandilya Tspanishad and 15 in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

Yoga asanas were not created for the sake of a strong and beautiful body (and a beautiful picture on Instagram). How do we know this? This can be seen even in those quotes that we have cited above. We do not observe such goals in these quotations. When reading descriptions of yoga asanas, we never meet the promise “asana will make you stronger, more flexible and more beautiful”, although we often meet promises near the description of asanas. These are the promises of health, victory over diseases and clear channels – that is, asanas in the texts of the Middle Ages are described as bringing yoga therapeutic and energy effects.

Hatha Yoga Pradipika Jyotsna

…tadāsanaṃ sthairya dehasya manasaś- cāñcalyarūpa-rajodharmanāśakatvena sthiratāṃ kuryāt ।
'āsanena rajo hanti ' iti vākyāt… ।

"...asana, that is, the stable position of the body, being the destroyer of the properties inherent in rajas, namely the mobility of the mind (manas), creates its stability. For it is said "asana destroys rajas..."

Apparently, at the time of this commentary, it was obvious that the essence of asana is calming the mind and eliminating rajasic states.

And this requires a long and steady stay in each position.

Asanas were usually called:
• according to the principle of similarity, when the name of the asana emphasizes the similarity of its shape to a certain animal or object.
• according to the principle of instruction, when the name suggests with which parts of the body the yogi performs it, what happens in the asana.

We talk in more detail about the logic of asana names and exercises for memorizing them in the section Dictionary of asanas.

The performance of yoga asanas requires a well-defined group of muscles to be activated, and also in a certain sequence. Whereas in everyday life, a person uses muscles rather unsystematically.
In turn, specific deformations of the body in the asana affect the internal organs and stimulate them.
So asana affects the human body. And, depending on the mechanism of such influence, asanas are divided into types:

• stretching
• twisting
• strength building
• inverted
• squeezing
• balancing

UFY instructors' articles on asanas