Asana generally means posture. In Yoga Sutra Maharshi Patanjali says “Sthiram Sugham Asanam”. Long steady and comfortable position is Asana.
Body is an instrument to do actions. Action in turn gives reaction. Action and reaction together gives experience. Experience in turn synthesize knowledge and knowledge gets evolved into concepts, beliefs and ideas. We hold on these concepts, beliefs and ideas and start to become stiff. The stiffness of the mind percolates into the body. It becomes difficult for the body in due course to be comfortable even in the natural positions. Discomfort comes to the body. Standing, sitting, lying or remaining in balancing positions become difficult and uneasy.
This is the time one feels the need to observe the living world around to see how other animals are leading their life in the most natural and simple instinctive ways. How they stand, how they sit, how they lie down and do their life in the simplest ways instead of making it so complicated as we humans do. The life of humanbeing has become so complicated and unintelligent in the sense that we have invited a lot of troubles that is about to lead towards our own extinction. We are constantly moving to fulfill something. It is important for us in this mad rush to learn to stand once again on our feet, to sit, to lay and to remain in balancing positions with inner harmony and to feel comfortable in whatever position we assume with our mind and body. Masters have observed with full attention the world around and have tried different positions that the animals naturally and comfortably take for living their life effectively. They have learned its magical effects on the human system.
In asanas, we are giving all possible movement to the body by making our body into different postures and holding those postures with absolute alertness to feel the breath, the composition of elements both in the body and in the Prana and the flow of emotions in the mind. By observing the observer, the practitioner gets into a state of absolute relaxation that activates the subconscious level of the mind which controls the subtle physiological functions of the body. In this process what the intelligence has to do according to the original design will start to function crossing the tensions of the mind due to social conditioning and its consequential stiffening.
During the asana practice, the mind will be free from joys and sorrows. The body will be free from heat and cold waves.
Asana is the third step in Ashtanga Yoga. Asanas are practiced to develop the ability to sit or stand or lay comfortable in a position for an extended period of time. Staying comfortable and steady in one position settles the Pranic activities and this in turn lead to the withdrawal of senses that results in one pointedness. One pointedness, rather concentration, culminates in no pointed attentiveness which we call as meditation or Dhyana. Raja Yoga equates Yogasana to a stable sitting position.
Hatha yogis however, found that certain specific body positions, asanas open the energy channels and psychic centers. They found that developing control of the body through this practice enabled them to control the mind and energy. Yoga Asanas became tools to higher awareness providing the stable foundation necessary for the exploration of the body, breath, mind and higher states. For this reason asana practice comes first in Hatha Yoga texts such as Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
According to Gherenda Samhita there are 84,00,000 Asanas. These asanas represent a progressive evolution from the simplest form of life to the most complex, that of a fully realized human being. Down through the ages, the great rishis and yogis modified and reduced the number of asanas to a few hundred known positions today.
Asanas are many. Some are simple and easy to do and some are difficult. The effect and superiority of asana does not depend upon it being easy or difficult, but on its systematic and regular practice. Different schools of yoga classified asanas in different categories. One method of classification is on the basis of the starting position of the asanas. This is the major type of classification. Thus the asanas are classified into four types:
A) Standing Asanas
B) Sitting Asanas
C) Prone Asanas
D) Supine Asanas