Mastering Yoga Asanas offers the third stage in traditional training in the 8 fold system prescribed by Patanjali.
The system of Asanas was developed through understanding that the attitude or the position of the body affects the mind just as a mental attitude reflects in the assumed physical stance or posture. What we now call “body language” in modern understanding is just a new awareness of an ancient principle. Aware of the intimate association between mind and body the Indian sages developed a system of Yoga Asanas to assist both physical and spiritual development and well being. Traditional training in Hatha Yoga encourages mastery of some or all of the 84 classic Asanas over a period of time. This demands skill in both strength and flexibility and assists in activating our full range of mental faculties.
Together with this training in assuming physical attitudes is the development of the individual’s thought and philosophy which reflects his attitude to life. He is encouraged to assume a philosophy that serves to guide him through life. It must be not only based upon the classical code of ethics (the Yamas/Niyamas) but directed from within him by his own intuition. This mental attitude he takes to life also requires strength and flexibility.
One aspect of the Hatha Yoga Asanas focuses upon the evolution of the physical make-up and the muscular development of the human form from its presumed aquatic origins, advancing to present man. The muscular system evolving through the various kingdoms is reflected in the symbolic Asanas which begin with such postures as the “fish” and proceed through the amphibian, reptile, bird, and mammal stages until human muscle development is complete. Each asana exercises or utilizes a particular set of muscles corresponding to those used by the creature after which the asana is named.
Another important purpose of Asanas is to achieve physical health and longevity and there are a number of Asanas which are practised for this reason, the most important of which are listed under the article “21 Health Asanas”.
In addition to those that stimulate the physiological functions of the body there are others that correspond to human symbols of qualities and desired attributes of the human psyche that we wish for in our own character. These are represented in the Asanas and named after the god-like noble qualities which serve as our inspiration.
There are many other types of Asanas. . Whereas there are those recommended for improving health, there are others that have a psychological purpose in establishing particular moods and thoughts. Some are for purification, others for strengthening, steadying, calming the nerves, for lightness and flexibility, for balance, and for self confidence. Yet others are for spiritual use in meditation.
When assuming any Asana we must use discrimination and refrain from “performing” an attitude of body just for the sake of it, without having a reason and purpose. Practising the physical Asanas without deeper purpose will debase the system to a level akin to sheer acrobatics.
If you overstrain through wrong use of the Asanas, certain forces are awakened prematurely or damage is done to the fine network of vital channels, known as the nadis, which weave a fabric of vital energy protecting you from outside influences and detrimental vibrations. It is your shield of protection. Awareness of this etheric shield will come to you through patient observation of the body and correct application of the breathing and asanas.
The key to effective results from your practice is dependent upon the specific breathing you employ whilst holding the position as well as the duration that each Asana is held.
Understand the type of body you possess and learn to perfect it within any obvious limitations until perfect health is attained with the assistance of your teacher.
The 21 Health Asanas will be guide as they include the several required to keep the spine free – forward bending, back bending, side bending, twisting and inverted position and the comfortable seated position needed in order to practise Pranayama and meditation .
An important reminder of the essential simplicity of the system is that although 84 positions of the body may be assumed, and the challenge and mastery of them is admirable, the great Siva taught the first 4 as being Siddhasana, Padmasana, Simhasana, and Bhadrasana.