With the first two limbs of yoga addressing the moral ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’, the third is concerned with what we in the West usually associate with yoga, namely the bodily postures or asanas. Though asanas are often the entry point to yoga, the other seven limbs are not particularly physical. But taken together, all eight (Ashtanga) constitute a path toward Samadhi or unity.
Researching this series of posts, but especially this one, has opened my eyes to yoga’s wider significance.
Thanks to my yoga teachers Ruth and Jo for facilitating my practise, and the yogis, image and content creators credited at the end.
Asana is a Sanskrit word meaning seat or chair, a metaphor for a stable and comfortable base. Though it’s hard to be precise about something that’s evolved over more than seventeen centuries and continues to do so, there are generally taken to be eighty-four asanas, which can also be combined into sequences e.g. Sun salutation (explored later), Moon salutation and Ashtanga yoga.
“Asana has two facets, pose and repose. Pose is the artistic assumption of a position. ‘Reposing in the pose’ means finding the perfection of a pose and maintaining it, reflecting in it with penetration of the intelligence and with dedication.”B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Though asanas do not seem to vary that much between different traditions, how they’re practiced and the emphasis placed on them does: for example, Hatha yoga has them balance the body and mind in preparation for meditation, Vinyasa (transition) focuses on how they flow together and synchronise with the breath, while the sequence of Ashtanga promotes physical precision and correct alignment.
Whatever the flavour though, it’ll always be a challenge to condition and contort the body in a controlled and comfortable way (which yoga practice should always be). That said, it’ll also be worth it, most obviously for: lengthening and strengthening connective tissues, reinforcing communication between nerves and tissues, toning muscles, building stamina, and opening blood vessels. Asanas also promote will power, open up emotions, still mental chatter, balance vital energy (prana or kundalini), and importantly, activate or ‘pierce’ the chakras.
The seven chakras are the body’s energy centres located along the spinal column, which correspond to different organs and aspects of being. In order to progress with subsequent yogic ‘limbs’, it’s thought the chakras need to be open to allow the life energy (prana or kundalini) to circulate between them and throughout the body. The video goes into detail.
The Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), is a series of 12 yoga poses practised together in a flowing sequence. It is traditionally performed in honour of the sun and at the start of the day. It’s also believed to promote the flow of both breath, (synchronised with movement) and prana, and mindfulness. (I don’t know about the former but IMO it does the latter). It typically consists of 12 asanas, each associated with a specific mantra and chakra –
- Mountain Pose (Tadasana) – Muladhara chakra (located at the base of the spine) – Stability, security, grounding
- Forward Fold (Uttanasana) – Svadhishthana chakra (located in the pelvic region) – Creativity, sexuality, emotion
- Plank Pose (Phalakasana) – Manipura chakra (located at the solar plexus) – Personal power, self-esteem, will
- Low Plank (Chaturanga Dandasana) – Anahata chakra (located at the heart) – Love, compassion, balance
- Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) – Vishuddha chakra (located at the throat) – Communication, self-expression, truth
- Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) – Ajna chakra (located between the eyebrows) – Intuition, insight, perception
- Forward Fold (Uttanasana) – Sahasrara chakra (located at the crown of the head) – Spiritual connection, enlightenment, unity
- Lunge (Anjaneyasana) – Muladhara chakra (located at the base of the spine) – Stability, security, grounding
- Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana) – Manipura chakra (located at the solar plexus) – Personal power, self-esteem, will
- Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) – Anahata chakra (located at the heart) – Love, compassion, balance
- Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) – Vishuddha chakra (located at the throat) – Communication, self-expression, truth
- Forward Fold (Uttanasana) – Ajna chakra (located between the eyebrows) – Intuition, insight, perception
If you find your body knows its own way through this sequence, then it’s maybe an interesting exercise to visualise these chakras, their qualities and significance in each asana.
Sadly, over the course of writing this post we lost Terry, a lovely soul who supported our yoga group through rain and shine.
He will be missed and this post is dedicated to him.
References and credits: –