Introduction to AsanasWhat is an Asana?
The Asanas are yoga postures. Traditionally asanas are positions which are held still for a certain amount of time - from a few seconds to a few hours! Usually the asanas will be held for an average of two to three minutes.
Besides being held steadily they should also be held comfortably. No pain should be experienced while holding the posture or in the hours or days that follow.
Three Types of Asanas
The scriptures recognize three types of asanas: the meditative, relaxing and cultural postures.
The meditative postures are ordinarily used for the practice of meditation and pranayama. Relaxation is paramount. The yogi aims at holding the meditative asana for long periods of time (up to several hours) to allow prolonged sessions of pranayama and meditation in perfect stillness and comfort. Eventually the yogi transcends the asana, not feeling his body, and focusing on the inner, subtle aspects of the practices.
The cultural postures are practiced with more intensity. While doing asanas the hatha yogi is aware that there are three groups of muscles in the body. For each asana, some muscles are relaxing, some are stretching and some are contracting. The art consists in relaxing deeply the first two groups while contracting forcefully the last group. During the practice, the stretched muscles should be lengthened to the limit. The limit is the pain and one should stop the stretching just before feeling any pain. One should feel a good, intense stretch. During the practice the breath should always be kept under control.
You can read our dedicated page about the different types of asanas.
How Many Asanas?
The shastras tell us of 84 lakhs asanas. A lakh being equal to 100,000, this brings the number of yoga postures to 8,400,000. The tradition says that there are 84 lakhs species in the world and there is one asana for each, capturing the life experience and qualities of each species in a relaxing position. Obviously nobody could learn, not mentioning practicing regularly, all of them. Therefore the hatha yoga texts present us with 84 more important asanas.
Here, following the Rishikesh tradition of Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnu-devananda, we base our daily practice around twelve basic postures which constitute the essence of all asanas. Of course we also practice many more in addition to these twelve.
These twelve basic postures are part of the basic yoga class.