What are asanas?

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Asanas are the Sanskrit name for yoga postures. Originally, asana meant “seat” – the sitting posture in which ancient yogis practiced meditation. Yoga is originally a physical and mental system for spiritual development and its central practice is meditation. Also in this text, Patanjali wrote about asanas: “the posture in yoga is stable and easy.”

The Raja yoga described by Patanjali seeks the control of the mind to achieve pure consciousness and with it, liberation from suffering. It consists of eight elements: Yamas (external ethical principles), niyamas (internal ethical principles), asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (recollection of the senses), Dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (integration ). Therefore, asanas are only one element of traditional yoga and were defined simply as a meditation posture.

Later, with a conception more focused on the physical body, texts such as Hatha Yoga Pradipika took the word asanas and turned it into yoga exercises as part of hatha yoga. Later texts, such as the Shiva Samhita and the Gheranda Samhita and the appearance of different schools of yoga focused on its physical benefits, in addition to the encounter with other Western techniques, increased the number of postures, until reaching the hundreds of asanas that are practiced. actually.

Yoga poses have great physical and mental benefits, many of which have been proven by modern Western science. Physical benefits include: increased flexibility, muscle strengthening, improved balance, improved immune system, better posture, increased tissue oxygenation, improved circulation, strengthened bones, strengthened the cardiovascular system, toning the nervous system, regulation of blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, improvement of digestion and the respiratory system and reduction of pain from different conditions.

They also promote cognitive abilities such as memory and concentration. They have helped many people sleep better, lower stress levels, control anxiety, and improve mood. Regular yoga practice makes us more in tune with the body, promoting better habits in different aspects of life. Asanas, practiced with consciences, have helped many people to have better mental health, with greater emotional balance, positivity, and self-esteem. Yoga provides a feeling of wholeness and integration with something greater, which is part of the spiritual growth associated with yoga.

There is an undetermined number of postures, but some claim more than 1000. Many take their names and characteristics from the wisdom of the natural world: mountains, trees, animals, the cycles of life. Arguably the postures can be divided between asanas balance, inversions, forward bending, back bending, and twisting, according to their main benefits. However, there are other classifications, such as standing postures, resting postures, starting postures, sitting postures, opening postures, reclining postures, strength postures, and surrender postures. Some will be in more than one category and it is essential to combine them to have a more complete practice in terms of their effects. Each school emphasizes a few, which it considers the most essential because they summarize the benefits of yoga.

The postures must be practiced taking into account some essential principles to have a safe practice and to take advantage of its benefits in mind and body. Among the most central is the importance of breathing and movements for the spine. Other recommendations for the practice of postures are to maintain attention in the practice, complement each exercise with a counter-pose, do an exercise of self-observation, and permanent meditation.

Asana practice should reflect the ethical principles and spiritual values ​​of yoga. For example, ahimsa means “non-violence”.  For this reason, there are no comparisons or competition and we accept the limits of the body. It is important to listen to the body and bring it to find its level, in a gentle way and without forcing its limits but expanding them little by little in parallel with those of your mental and spiritual faculties. We must practice with joy and leave thoughts and judgments because tradition serves precisely to get us out of the mind. Posture practice is an ever-changing process and journey within ourselves.

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