Asanas and Pranayama in Yoga

11 Dec

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Asanas

Asanas, or body postures, comprise the third of the eight limbs, and an important aspect of yoga. It is a part of yoga that, in these modern times, tends to be mistaken for the practice of yoga practice in its entirety. Given the fascinating, beautiful and challenging range of asanas that have been developed over the course of history, combined with the tangible benefits of increased strength, flexibility and balance that they inspire, it is unsurprising that asanas have achieved such widespread popularity. However, the eight limbs demonstrate that the physical and mental exercises of yoga are inextricably inter-connected, and asanas must be performed only in conjunction with the other seven limbs in order to achieve a truly rich and complete yoga practice.

Asana is translated from the Sanskrit as “staying” or “abiding”. This means far more than physically “staying” in one posture. Asanas, when performed correctly, help to still and quiet the mind, and they also allow the practitioner to reflect upon a wide range of human emotions, as well as the interconnectedness of her or his body with the rest of the world. Later in this manual, we will be exploring asanas in great detail.

The eight limbs of yoga were created in the Yoga Sutras by Sage Patanjali several thousand years ago. In the 195 sutras, only three sutras were discussed by Patanjali on the topic of asana and were mostly in reference to meditation postures. Asana is defined as Sthira-Sukham or a steady yet firm and comfortable posture. In modern day yoga this definition would tell us that asana should allow our bodies to feel relaxed, strong, and steady for the duration of all the poses.

Pranayama

Pranayama is awareness and control of the breath, and must be practiced in conjunction with asanas and when meditating. Pranayama brings about the benefits of increased health and relaxation, and it stimulates the process of evolution as it fosters concentration. Prāṇāyāma  is a Sanskrit word which means “extension of the prāṇa or breath” or more perfectly, “extension of the life force”. Pranayama Yoga is the art of breathing control. A subtle and dynamic exploration involving the art of breathing.

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