Meaning of asana
- The word ‘Asana’ is etymologically derived from the Sanskrit root ‘as’, which means to sit.
- Monier Williams has given a fairly long list of meanings associated with the word ‘Asana’: ‘to be present; to exist; to inhabit; dwell in; to make one abode in….; to sit quietly, abide, to continue in any situation.
- Yoga asanas in Yogasadhana are usually referred to indicate the ‘sitting posture’ or ‘position’ of the body, which contributes to the steadiness of the body and mind as well as a sense of well-being.
What Patanjali says about asana?
- Asana has been defined by Patanjali as a position or bodily posture which not only confirms to steadiness (sthairya) but which is equally pleasant and comfortable (sukham) too.
- It is clear from this definition that any posture of body, which could be maintained steadily for adequately long time, can be called Thus stability and comfort are the main characteristics of asana.
- Patanjali has stated that in order to achieve steadiness and comfort, asana must be without any muscular or nervous tension and the mind should be merged with ananta (infinity).
Asana as per Siddhasiddhantapaddhati
Siddhasiddhantapaddhati (900A.D.-1000 A.D.), an important text of Hathayoga emphasizes ‘one’s steadiness in one’s own form’ as chief characteristic of asana.
Yoga asana as per Hathapradipika
- According to Hathapradipika, practice of asana brings mental as well as physical health, a feeling of lightness.
- It also provides disease-less body and happiness.
Asanas as per Yogarasayana
- The text Yogarasayana states that asana is important to undergo other yogic practices.
- It brings stability of body, without which one cannot have stable mind.
- When asana becomes stable; the mind gains stability; the movement of Praṇa slows down and the fickleness of senses too is set at rest; then one gets established in Yoga.
Asanas in Traditional Yoga Textbooks
Regarding the number of asanas, different traditional Yoga texts have different opinions. Patanjali in Yogasutra has neither mentioned the name of any asana to be adopted by the practitioners nor has he given any instruction about the technique.
Vyasabhasya (500 AD- 600 AD), the first authentic commentary on Yogasutra has mentioned 11 asanas which can be practised comfortably and steadily. The asanas given in Vyasabhasya are:
- Padmasana 7. Paryankasana
- Virasana 8. Krauncanisadanasana
- Bhadrasana 9. Hastinisadanasana
- Swastikasana 10. Ustranisadanasana
- Dandasana 11. Samasthanasana
Vijnanabiksu, the author of Yogavartika (1400 AD) has specified the names and techniques of the four asanas calling them Asanacatustaya (Y.V.: 2/46). The four asana are:
Gorakṣasanath (900 AD-1000AD) in Goraksasatakam and Gherandarsi (1800 AD) in Gherandasamhita mention that there are as many asanas as the number of living species. The number of such species is 84 lakhs and accordingly the number of asanas is 84 lakhs. Out of 84 lakh asana, 84 asanas have been considered very useful and taught by Shiva. Gherandarishi in Gherandasamhita found thirty two asanas (out of eighty four asanas) useful for human beings.
- Siddhasana 17. Utkatasana
- Padmasana 18. Saṅkatasana
- Bhadrasana 19. Mayurasana
- Muktasana 20. Kukkutasana
- Vajrasana 21. Kurmasana
- Swastikasana 22. Uttanakurmasana
- Siṁhasana 23. Uttanamandukasana
- Gomukhasana 24. Virkshasana
- Virasana 25. Mandukasana
- Dhanurasana 26. Garudasana
- Savasana 27. Ṛsabhasana
- Guptasana 28. Shalabhasana
- Matsyasana 29. Makarasana
- Matsyendrasana 30. Ushtrasana
- Gorakshasana 31. Bhujangasana
- Pashcimottanasana 32. Yogasana
Regarding the details of asanas, it is the Hathayoga treatises which provide comprehensive description about the performance of the asanas. Svatmarama, the author of Hathapradipika (1400 AD) has given the details of following 15 asanas:
- Swastikasana 9. Paschimottanasana
- Gomukhasana 10. Mayurasana
- Virasana 11. Savasana
- Kurmasana 12. Siddhasana
- Kukkutasana 13. Padmasana
- Uttanakurmasana 14. Simhasana
- Dhanurasana 15. Bhadrasana
Yogatattvopanisad (1400 AD – 1500 AD) describes asanas as one of the twenty components of Hathayoga and prescribes four asanas (Siddhasana, Padmasana, Simhasana and Bhadrasana), which are explained in Hathapradipika.
Hatharatnavali (1600 AD – 1700 AD) mentions the names of eighty four asanas but describes the technique of the following thirty seven asanas only:
- Siddhasana 20. Markatasana
- Bhadrasana 21. Matsyendrasana
- Simhasana 22. Parsvamatsyendrasana
- Padmasana 23. Baddhamatsyendrasana
- Karasamputitapankajam 24. Niralambanamasana
- Mayurasana 25. Saurasana
- Dandamayurasana 26. Ekpadasana
- Parsvamayurasana 27. Phanidrasana
- Baddhakekiasana 28. Paschimottanasana
- Pindmayurasana 29. Sayitapascimattanasana
- Ekpadamayurasana 30. Vicitrakaraniasana
- Bhairavasana 31. Yoganidrasana
- Kamadahanasana 32. Vidhunasana
- Panipatrasana 33. Padapithasana
- Dhanurasana 34. Kukkutasana
- Gomukhasana 35. Uttanakurmasana
- Swastikasana 36. Virschikasana
- Virasana 37. Savasana
According to Siddhasiddhantapaddhati, one should adopt any posture of Swastikasana, Padmasana, and Siddhasana.
Vashisthasamhita has given the techniques of following 10 asanas:
Shivsamhita refers following four asanas with technique:
Yogayajnavalkyasamhita prescribes following eight asanas with techniques.
Hathatattvakaumudi, another hathayogic text of later period of Sunderdeva prescribes following 15 asanas along with their technique.
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