madhubani painting by
The fact that a lot of our Yoga poses, Asanas in sanskrit, represent animals is not merely a coincidence. Supposedly, the ancient Rishis believed that naming a number of our asanas for the animals with which we share the world, would allow us to establish a connection with those beings. There is a parallel story in the King Arthur legends in which Merlin decided that, when Arthur was to become King, he would turn him into a mouse, and subsequently each of the other beings in his soon to be kingdom. This would allow him to experience what it was like to “be” each of the beings, and therefore show more compassion toward them as their King. So, the next time your asana practice takes you into an animal pose, such as pigeon, locust, peacock, dolphin, lizard or frog, try and imagine what it is really like to “be” this particular animal. Try and feel a connection and compassion for each of the animals with which we share the world - even if it is just for a moment.
"Yogic science not only provides knowledge about the underlying basis of metaphysical principles and ethical values, but it also provides the necessary tools to completely transform human nature. Its aim is to bring about perspectives beyond intellectual understanding, and to foster experiences that bring life into a new dimension of perception.
The emphasis of yoga therefore is not on the external and perceivable areas of endeavor, which lead to bondage and limitation, but on the inner and intangible fields, which lead to freedom and perfection. It involves the transformation of a limited being into an unbounded one.
Yoga is both a philosophy and a science. The philosophy and the science of yoga are not only intertwined and inseparable, they also reinforce each other. The philosophy emphasizes the existence of the Self within. The science is the method that verifies this doctrine by setting out certain kinds of discipline, certain techniques and practices that enable the emergence of the true being within us.Yoga is the path towards the union of our bounded self with our ultimate nature. This union results in self-realization - Mukti or Nirvana. Through perfect yoga this freedom is attained. Yoga is not something one does; it is the medium of one becoming the crucible of self-transformation. It is not a practice, but a certain way to be. Yoga deepens, broadens and strengthens the visionary power of the mind. It opens the door of that realm of sensing beyond the five senses.
In the yogic scriptures it is said that there were originally 8,400,000 Asanas, which represent the 8,400,0000 incarnations every individual must pass through before attaining liberation from the cycle of birth and death. These Asanas represented a progressive evolution from the simplest form of lite to the most complex : that of a fully realised human being. Down through the ages the great rishis and yogis modified and reduced the number of asanas to the few hundred known today. Of these few hundred, only the eighty-four are most useful. Asanas may be classified as:
1. Meditative Asanas – Asanas are sitting pastures, which maintain the body in steady and comfortable condition. By various arrangement of the legs and hands different Meditative asasnas are formed. The characteristic feature of meditative asana is however, keeping the head, neck and trunk erect. eg. Sidhasana, padmasana. etc.
2. Cultural Asanas : This type of asana involves static stretching, which bring about proper tone of the muscles. They contribute to the flexibility of the spine and render back and spinal muscles stronger. They also stimulate proper working of the vital oragons in the thoracic and abdominal cavities. These are innumerable varieties of cultural asanas which are performed in sitting, lying and standing positions.a. Backward bending asana – Bhujangasana, Shalabhasana, Dhanurasana, Chakrasanab. Forward bending asana – Paschimottauasau, Pada hastasana.c. Sprial Twisting asanas – Ardha Matsyendera asana.d. inverted asanas – Sarvangasana, Sirshasana.e. Balancing asanas – Garud asana, Natarajasana, uttbita Hasta padangusthasana.
3. Reparative Asanas : This type of asanas are performed in the lying position and are meant for giving rest to the body and wind. eg. Savasana, makarasana.Technique and Utility. Every asana has its individual technique. but certain guidelines to be followed during practice of asanas. Although anybody can practise asanas, they become more effacious and beneficial when performed in the proper manner after correct preparation.
Breathing : Always breathe through the nose unless specific instructions are given to the contrary. Try to coordinate the breath with the asana practice.
Awareness : This is as essential to the practice of asana as it is to all yoga practices. The purpose of asana practice is to influence, integrate and harmonise all the levels of being : physical, pranic, mental, emotional, psychic and spiritual. At first it may appear that asanas are merely concerned with the physical level because try deal with the movement of different parts of the body. Actually, however they has profound effects at every level of being if key are combined with awareness.
Relaxation : Shavasana may be performed at any point during asana practice, especially when feeling physically or mentally tired. It should also be practised on completion of the asana programme.Sequence – After completing shatkarma, asana should be done, followed by pranayama, then pratyahara and dharana which lead to meditation.
Counterpose : When practising the middle and advanced group of asanas particularly, it is important that the programe is structured so that backward bends are followed by forward bends and vice versa and that whatever is practised on one side of body is repeated on the other side. This concept of counterpose is necessary to bring the body back to a balanced state.
No straining : Never exert undue force while doing asanas. Beginners may find their muscles stiff at first, but after several weeks of regular practice key will be surprised to find that their muscles are more supple.
Age limitations : Asana may be practised by people all age groups, male and female.
Contra-indications : People with fractured bones or who are suffering from chronic ailments and diseases such as stomach ulcer, tuberculosis or hernia and those recuperating from operations, should consult a yoga teacher or doctor before commencing asanas.A seer named Gheranda has listed the following 32 as the more important of the 84 asanas :"
(1) Sidhasana (Perfect Posture),
(2) Padmasana (lotus posture)
(3) Bhadrasana (Blessed posture)
(4) Muktasana (liberated posture)
(5) Vajarasana (Adamantine posture)
(6) Svastikasana (Svastika posture)
(7) Simhasana (Lion posture)
(8) Gomukhasana (Cow-head posture)
(9) Virasana (Hero’s posture)
(10) Dhanurasana (Bow posture)
(11) Mrtasana (Corpse posture)
(12) Guptasana (Concealed posture)
(13) Matsyasana (fish posture)
(14) Matsyendrasna (Matsyendra posture)
(15) Goraksana (Goraksa Posture)
(16) Pascimottanasava (Posterior-stretch posture)
(17) Utkatasana (squatting posture)
(18) Sankatasana (Contracted posture)
(19) Mayurasa (Peacock posture)
(20) Kukkutasana (Cock posture)
(21) kurmasana (Tortoise posture)
(22) Uttana Kurmasana (stretched tortoise posture)
(23) Uttanamandukasana (Stretched frog posture)
(24) Vrkasana (Tree posture)
(25) Mandukasana (Frog posture)
(26) Garud asana (Eagle posture)
(27) Vrsabhasana (Ox posture)
(28) Salabhasana (locust posture)
(29) Makrasana (Crocodile posture)
(30) ustrasana (camel posture)
(31) Bhujangasana (Cobra posture)
(32) Yogasana (Yoga posture)
These asanas are capable of bestowing supernatural powers on men. Only eleven out of these thirty two have been rated as the leading asanas. In Hothayoga Pradipika, Swatmarama, a disciple of Goraksanatha detailed as follows :
1. Perfect posture (Siddhasana)
2. Lotus posture (Padmasana)
3. Cow-head posture (Gomukhasana)
4. Hero’s posture (Virasana)
5. Cock posture (kukkutasana)
6. Stretched-tortoise posture (Uttankurmasan)
7. Bow Posture (Dhanurasana)
8. Matsyendra posture (Matsyendrasana)
9. Posterior-Stretch posture (Paschimottanasana)
10. Peacock Posture (Mayurasana)
11. Corpse Posture (Savasana)