Asana is probably the most recognizable aspects of yoga, so it is a great place to begin our journey. In sanskrit, asana means “to be in a comfortable seat or posture”, although we tend to use the term to describe our physical practice. While asana is only one of the eight limbs of yoga, it is a great starting point because the body is a tangible aspect of our being that we can visually see and feel from the onset. Developing awareness of one’s body is one of the most beautiful and useful benefits of practicing yoga, that has become stunted in this day and age. The more we can tune into our bodies, the easier we will be able to understand what it needs and honor it. By practicing yoga, we first work on developing that awareness and then start building the tools to heal, cleanse, and transcend.
We are composed of three facets…body, mind, and consciousness. The goal of asana is to bring the three together as a whole. An important thing to keep in mind…no pun…is that the body and the mind are not really separate. So, while we are focusing on the body at the moment, just know that it has great influence on the mind and our mental health (and vis versa). Both are deeply integrated systems of the whole being. For instance…
- One’s mental perspective can be shifted with a dedicated practice of asana
- Asanas affect the functioning of the endocrine system (hormones, reproduction, digestion, emotional reactions) and harmonize the control center of the brain.
- Asanas affect the nervous, respiratory, and digestive systems of the body by bringing rhythm and balance to the mind-body integration.
- Asanas affect one’s energetic field and allow for a free flow of prana. In yoga, this energy sheath is called pranamaya kosha, which is normally imperceptible to the naked eye. As detected by scientists, this energy travels throughout and around the body through “nadis” or specific pathways. When these pathways are blocked, physical and mental issues can take place. This is where asana comes into play and cleanses the nadis bringing balance to the system.
- Asanas affect one’s breath and therefore can aid in the reduction of tension in the body and mind. Rhythmical breathing brings harmony and calmness to the body and therefore the mind.
- Asanas affect our personal awareness of our physical and mental states. You can begin to more quickly notice if you’re hunching your shoulders, holding your breath, or furrowing your brow. With practice, one becomes lighter in the mind, stronger in the body, and implemented with tools to create balance within the whole self.
Asana is still just one integral part of the “practice of yoga”. It is one of the various techniques that leads to a higher state of awareness and consciousness. The mind-body connection is a means to an end, in the sense of transcending even the individual self. A pervasive consciousness that can be realized when the ailments of the body are removed and the mind is calm, leading to an automatic release of the physical body and the superficial aspects of the mind….
…But in the meantime, let’s focus on “working that asana” and finding a balance of the mind and body…the self as a whole.