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Classifications of Asanas
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ASANA - Classification, Levels and method of mastering the Asanas

The oldest scriptures of "Vedas" found are about 5000 years old. Vedas mention about Yoga and Asanas, but the first complete text on Yoga was written by Patanjali, 500 years BC. Asana is the third step in Patanjal Yoga (Ashtanga Yoga) and first step in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika written by Swami Swatmarama. Hatha Yoga Pradipika is believed to be the original text of Hatha Yoga.

The word asana is derived from the Sanskrit verb 'Aas' which means existence. The state of existence is Asana or position. Here the position of body as well as mind is expected in Asana.

If you consider the Asana, there are three steps:

  1. first step is taking the position
  2. second is the Asana or position itself
  3. and third is releasing the position

Patanjali defines asana as a steady and comfortable position so the first step of taking the asana and third step of releasing the asana should also be supporting to the definition. So it is necessary that the movement involved should be slow and steady. One should avoid fast and speedy movement and also the jerks and strains.

The cerebral cortex is mostly used during the conscious movement of muscles. Cerebral cortex is more evolved part of the brain. This process allows greater cortical control over a period of time. It has good profound effects on our wellbeing.

Fast movement is involved in aerobics or performing gymnastics. Therefore, they can not be called asanas. There is no steadiness involved while performing the aerobics or gymnastics. No comfort is experienced in the position. In fact the focus is on performing more positions in short time interval and stretching body to the maximum limits without comfort.

Asanas, on the other hand, are different as far as taking the position as they have slow and controlled movements. The performer has to maintain the position with steadiness, comfort and relaxation and releasing the position are concerned. The asanas (the physical positions) can be progressively achieved or mastered in four levels in progression:

  1. Asana/position involves stability. The body is maintained in a particular asana for longer duration while achieving the stability of all the muscles, whether stretched or relaxed. The effort in this is to stabilize the body and its processes. This is the first level in asanas as per the classical definition.
  2. Once the stability is achieved for certain period of time in any asana. The next level is to feel the comfort in this position. One should be able to maintain the asana comfortably and feel the ease.
  3. One should try to progressively relax the muscles after the steadiness and comfort. One can experience greater stability and comfort in the position with practice of relaxation. Once the body is relaxed, the mind also becomes calm and relaxed. It can be introverted or easily focused.
  4. And finally the mind can be easily focused on object of meditation. The higher stages of experience can be realized in this state. This level of asana is related to higher mind, the physical experience is transcended.

If one practices asana with these four levels in progression then one is said to have mastered the asana. It results in perfection on physical and mental aspects. Ideally it is mastery on physical level if one can maintain an asana for three hours without discomfort and it is mastery on mental level if one can reach higher stages of meditation.

The relaxed state of being is the natural condition of body and mind which is achieved with regular practice of asana. This relaxed condition is achieved without efforts by the practitioner of the asanas. The body will be absolutely relaxed and mind will remain calm even if one is just sitting in the office chair. There will not be any stress or strain in the body and no cluttering thoughts in the mind.

The similar description of asana is found in Hatha Yoga Pradipika which says that “one can achieve sound health, stability, lightness of body and mind with asana”.

In Gherand Samhita (another text on Hatha Yoga), the author describes the effect of asana as “perfecting the stability of body and mind is the result of asana”.

The other effects of asana can be seen in day to day life such as increased efficiency, stamina, increased immune capacity, quiet and calm mind, easy control over emotions, and improvement in attitude.

Classification of Asana

The asanas can be classified depending on the application of the asanas. These are:

·        Meditative asanas

·        Asanas for improving health

·        Relaxing asanas

Meditative asanas - Asanas like Padmasana (Lotus pose), Siddhasana (Perfect pose), Swastikasana (Auspicious pose), Vajrasana (thunderbolt pose), Vrukshasana (tree pose) etc are called as meditative asanas. The purpose of these asanas is to stabilize the body for advance practices of Pranayama and meditation.

Asanas for improving health - Asanas have good effect on various systems in human body, such as Matsyendrasana (spinal twist pose) has good effect on digestive system and good effect on pancreas for improving the insulin production, Sarvangasana (shoulder stand pose) has good effects on endocrine gland system particularly thyroid glands. So the asanas which have complementary effect on various organs can be classified in this category.

Relaxing asanas - Shavasana (corpse pose) and Makarasana (crocodile pose) are relaxing asanas. These asanas give complete rest to body and mind.

Another way of classifying the asanas is depending on the pre position required for a particular asana, for example shoulder stand is performed from supine position so it can be classified under supine position. This can be divided in four sections. These are:

1.    Supine position

2.    Prone position

3.    Sitting position

4.    Standing position

  1. Supine position - Lying on back in sleeping position, asanas like Sarvangasana (shoulder stand), Halasana (plough pose), Chakrasana (wheel pose) etc.
  2. Prone position - Asanas like Bhujangasana (cobra pose), Shalabhasana (locust pose), Noukasana (boat pose), Dhanurasana (Bow pose)
  3. Sitting position - Asanas like Padmasana (lotus pose) Matsyendrasana (spinal twist pose), Paschimottasana (forward bend pose), Vajrasana (thunderbolt pose) etc.
  4. Standing position - Trikonasana (triangle pose), Veerasana (warrior pose), Vrukshasana (tree pose) etc.

There can be many other ways to classify asanas. There are in all 8.4 millions asanas as per Gherand Samhita (a text of Hatha Yoga), but the book describes 32 asanas, Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes 15 asanas, Hatha Ratnavali mentions 34 asanas, Goraksha Samhita talks about 84 asanas, etc.

So studying the asanas is a subject of research, these are just introductory views on asanas to encourage more and more efforts in this field.

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