Yoga Asanas (Yoga Poses) in Traditional Yoga Textbooks

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.

    Yoga Asanas (Yoga Poses) in Traditional Yoga Textbooks
    Asanas

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

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:

  1. Padmasana     7.    Paryankasana
  2. Virasana          8.    Krauncanisadanasana
  3. Bhadrasana     9.    Hastinisadanasana
  4. Swastikasana   10.    Ustranisadanasana
  5. Dandasana        11.    Samasthanasana
  6. Sopasrayasana

 Yogavartika

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:

  1. Padmasana
  2. Virasana
  3. Bhadrasana
  4. Swastikasana

Gherandasamhita

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.

  1. Siddhasana                       17.   Utkatasana
  2. Padmasana                      18.    Saṅ­katasana
  3. Bhadrasana                     19.    Mayurasana
  4. Muktasana                       20.    Kukkutasana
  5. Vajrasana                        21.    Kurmasana
  6. Swastikasana                  22.    Uttanakurmasana
  7. Siṁhasana                       23.    Uttanamandukasana
  8. Gomukhasana                24.    Virkshasana
  9. Virasana                          25.    Mandukasana
  10. Dhanurasana                  26.    Garudasana
  11. Savasana                         27.    Ṛsabhasana
  12. Guptasana                       28.    Shalabhasana
  13. Matsyasana                     29.    Makarasana
  14. Matsyendrasana            30.    Ushtrasana
  15. Gorakshasana                31.    Bhujangasana
  16. Pashcimottanasana      32.    Yogasana

   Hathapradipika

  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:    

  1. Swastikasana                  9.     Paschimottanasana
  2.    Gomukhasana             10.     Mayurasana
  3. Virasana                           11.     Savasana
  4. Kurmasana                       12.     Siddhasana
  5. Kukkutasana                     13.     Padmasana
  6.      Uttanakurmasana       14.     Simhasana
  7. Dhanurasana                      15.     Bhadrasana
  8. Matsyendrasana

    

Yogatattvopanisad

 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

Hatharatnavali (1600 AD – 1700 AD) mentions the names of eighty four asanas but describes the technique of the following thirty seven asanas only:

  1. Siddhasana                       20.   Markatasana
  2. Bhadrasana                      21.   Matsyendrasana
  3. Simhasana                        22.   Parsvamatsyendrasana
  4. Padmasana                       23.   Baddhamatsyendrasana
  5. Karasamputitapankajam   24.   Niralambanamasana
  6. Mayurasana                      25.   Saurasana
  7. Dandamayurasana            26.   Ekpadasana
  8. Parsvamayurasana            27.   Phanidrasana
  9.     Baddhakekiasana              28.   Paschimottanasana
  10. Pindmayurasana               29.   Sayitapascimattanasana
  11. Ekpadamayurasana           30.   Vicitrakaraniasana
  12. Bhairavasana                    31.   Yoganidrasana
  13. Kamadahanasana             32.   Vidhunasana
  14. Panipatrasana                   33.   Padapithasana
  15. Dhanurasana                    34.   Kukkutasana
  16. Gomukhasana                   35.   Uttanakurmasana
  17. Swastikasana                    36.   Virschikasana
  18. Virasana                           37.   Savasana
  19. Mandukasana

Siddhasiddhantapaddhati

According to Siddhasiddhantapaddhati, one should adopt any posture of Swastikasana, Padmasana, and Siddhasana.

Vashisthasamhita

Vashisthasamhita has given the techniques of following 10 asanas:

 

1Svastikasana6Mayurasana
2Gomukhasana7Kukkutasana
3Padmasana8Bhadrasana
4Virasana9Kurmasana
5Simhasana10Muktasana

Shivsamhita

Shivsamhita refers following four asanas with technique:

  • Siddhasana
  • Ugrasana
  • Padmasana
  • Svastikasana

Yogayajnavalkyasamhita

Yogayajnavalkyasamhita prescribes following eight asanas with techniques.

 

1Svastikasana5Simhasana
2Gomukhasana6Bhadrasana
3Padmasana7Muktasana
4Virasana8Mayurasana

 

Hathatattvakaumudi

Hathatattvakaumudi, another hathayogic text of later period of Sunderdeva prescribes following 15 asanas along with their technique.

 

1Dhanurasana9Kurmasana
2Kukkutasana10Prasaritasana
3Matsyendrasana (Matsyendrapitham)11Padmasana (amburuhasana/Sororahasana/Ambujasana)
4Mayūrasana (Mayurpitha)12Baddhapadmasana
5Savasana13Siddhasana

(YonyAsana)

6Simhasana (Yogasimhasana)14Pascimatanasana
7Bhadrasana

 

15Svastikasana
8Virasana

 

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