Asana (Sanskrit for ‘to sit’ or ‘seat’) refers to both the place in which the practitioner sits, and the posture which is employed. Asanas are also typically used as physical exercises that are regularly referred to as ‘postures’ in modern terminology. As such, Asanas are the best-known aspect of yoga today.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras originally reference the utilisation of asanas to help master the body in preparation for long periods of meditation. Combined with the breathing practices of pranayama, this constitutes the most common variety of yoga practised today, Hatha yoga.
The use of these postures has obvious benefits which include improved health, fitness, balance and flexibility. However, the deeper meaning of these postures, as Patanjali set forth, are to be used as a tool to calm both the body and mind before meditation. The practise of the various poses also offers a challenge both physically and mentally. Therefore, the physicality of the postures is designed to open and free the mind.
Sri Dharma Mittra, a well-known yoga teacher, photographed himself in 1975 performing 1350 asana yoga postures. He is also known to have stated “there are an infinite number of asanas”. This catalogue of postures is now considered a primary reference point for postures in modern yoga. It is also testament to the commitment and variety that yoga can ask for, as well as the challenge and rewards it can offer.