By Swami Harshananda
Yogasanas literally means ‘postures recommended by the science of Yoga’.
Yogāsanas are now extremely popular all over the world mostly as physical exercises. However they are much more than that. Coupled with prāṇāyāma, they act at three levels:
- The physical body
- The vital body
- The mind
Significance of Postures in Yogāsanas
When perfected they help the physical body to have strength and stamina, regulate the internal body-chemistry and assist in gaining control over the mind. Āsana means a posture of sitting or standing. According to one view, by imitating the posture of an animal, one can get that animal’s agility or any other special capacity. That is why quite a few yogāsanas are named after some animal or the other. Though such yogāsanas can be innumerable, thirty-two have been mentioned as more important by the Gheranda Samhitā, a standard work of Haṭhayoga, more directly concerned with the yogāsanas and prāṇāyāma.
Advantages of Yogāsanas
- Yogāsanas have certain advantages over the gymnastic exercises.
- They can be practiced by all, irrespective of age or sex or health conditions if specific instructions are followed.
- No external appliance like dumb-bells or barbells or any other device is needed.
- The yogic exercises reduce the toxins in the body instead of increasing them as done by the other system.
Rules to be Observed While Practicing Yogāsanas
Those who wish to practice yogāsanas are required to observe some general rules. They are:
- Organs of evacuation should be empty before practicing the yogāsanas.
- It is better to do the yogāsanas after bath. Otherwise, there must be a gap of at least 30 minutes for bath after doing them.
- Early morning is the best time for doing the yogāsanas.
- Drinking a glass of warm water before beginning will help.
- The place must be clean and airy. A blanket should be spread and the yogāsanas practiced on it.
- Breathing must be done through the nostrils only.
- At the end, sweat should be dried by spreading it with the bare hands and not with a cloth.
- Those suffering from some diseases like hypertension should not practice topsy-turvy postures.
- Women are advised to avoid some yogāsanas during certain periods or conditions.
- Before beginning the regular practice of the yogāsanas, a few preparatory exercises have to be done to loosen the joints and attain flexibility. These exercises include bending, rotating the arms, clenching the hands and movements of the neck. Some exercises for the eyes also are prescribed.
- According to the Yogasutras of Patañjali, āsana is the third of the eight steps of yoga. He defines it as that posture in which one can sit comfortably and steadily for a long time, for meditation.
Yogāsanas for Meditation as per Hathayoga
The works on Hathayoga recommend the following āsanas for meditation:
Out of the several yogāsanas currently in use, the following sixteen are very common:
Mode of Practicing Yogāsanas
It is best to learn the yogāsanas directly from a competent teacher. Though pictures and descriptions of them are often given in standard works, there is always a chance of going wrong or even getting into trouble. When practiced properly these yogāsanas have either cured or decreased the effects of many ailments. In fact, quite a few have been designed as a cure for specific diseases.
- Prāṇāyāma means yogic technique of controlling the prāṇa or the basic life-force, through special breathing exercises.
- It is same as in Kukkuṭāsana or Mayurāsana which signifies kukkuṭa as cock; mayura as peacock.
- Gheranda Samhitā Chapter 2
- He lived in 200 B. C.
- Yogasutras 2.29, 46, 48
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore