Asana means posture, or alignment of the muscular-skeletal system. This is the limb of yoga that is becoming very popular at the moment, especially in the West. The physical practice of Asana is also known as Hatha yoga. According to the legends and myths of the Hindu religion, Shiva founded yoga and passed it on to humanity. But the physical practice of Asana is really only a vehicle to sustained meditation, which is the ultimate goal of a yoga practice.
Yoga isn’t about expensive equipment, supplements, tearing and building muscles, or simply relaxation; physical yoga is about creating efficiency in the neurological systems of the body and ensuring that the circulatory system is running optimally, including the organs, oxygenation of the blood, neurotransmitter equilibrium, and more. Studies all over the world are finding the extreme benefits of the exercises for the inner organs, heart, and mind to be truly healing for many of the ailments of modern society. Stress, heart disease, neurological dysfunction, and physical injuries can all be aided, if not cured, by many of the physical yoga practices.
Truly, the Asana practice of yoga is a stepping stone into the higher states of consciousness, such as Samadhi (the 8th limb of yoga), Pratyahara (the 5th limb), and living with mindfulness to the environment and in spiritual harmony with the world. Essentially, yoga is a purification process for the body that allows the mind to be at peace and in constant states of bliss, undistracted by the suffering and pain that attachment can bring. The yogi realizes that the sacred mind is a product of the body, and that the body is a sacred gift. Each breath and beat of the heart is a blessing and learning to appreciate them all is part of what asana can allow for the mind.
The names of Asanas are meaningful and symbolic; they represent the evolution that man comes from, his origins in the animal and natural world. That is why many poses are named after animals, sages, and beings that existed before the body of man had evolved. They teach us that life is a universal gift, to be respected and loved. By taking control and conquering the limitations of the body, the yogi makes himself a fit vehicle for carrying the divine light to others and spends his time in the service of his fellow-man and the life surrounding him. Yoga asana helps to remind man that his body is a divine gift of countless ages to evolve and that the life that resides within him originated in the life outside of him and that all life shares the divine gift of life.
Performing Asana will make the body healthy, the mind steady, and the spirit at peace with the surrounding world. True health cannot be purchased and must be sought through work and discipline; something that western medicine tries to deny. The science of Asana has evolved greatly over the years to target individual organs, nerves, lymph, muscles, bones, and ligaments. The science is highly advanced but there is much room for growth and evolution in the practice and yoga will continue to evolve with civilization. Ultimately, physical asana will give you control over the mind by disciplining the body, which is where consciousness stems from. Vitality, bliss, discipline, and fulfillment are the gifts that the physical practice of asana will give the practitioner.
Stay tuned for the remaining 5 limbs of yoga, the next part will focus on Pranayama, or control of the life-force (breath).