Yoga Asanas:What are they?

yoga asanasYoga Asanas ‘sitting down’, < आस ās 'to sit down') is a body position, typically connected with the practice of Yoga, originally identified as a mastery of sitting still, with the spine as a tube of biodynamic union. In the context of Yoga practice, Yoga Asanas refers to two things: the place where a practitioner (or yogin, in general usage), yogi (male), or yogini (female) sits and how (pose) in which he/she sits. In the Yoga sutras, Patanjali suggests that asana is “to be seated in a position that is firm, but relaxed for extended, or timeless periods”.

As a variation of yoga postures were promoted to exercise the body-mind over the centuries, to the present day when yoga is sought as a primarily physical exercise form, modern usage has come to include variations from lying on the back and standing on the head, to a variety of other positions. However, in the Yoga sutras, Patanjali mentions the execution of sitting with a steadfast mind for extended periods as the third of “the eight limbs of Classical or Raja yoga, but does not reference standing postures or kriyas. Yoga practitioners (even those who are adepts at various complex postures) who seek the “simple” practice of chair-less sitting generally find it impossible or surprisingly grueling to sit still for the traditional minimum of one-hour (as still practiced in eastern Vipassana), some of them then dedicating their practice to sitting yoga asana and the sensations and mind-states that arise and evaporate in extended sits.
Asana later became a term for various postures useful for restoring and maintain a practitioner’s well-being and improve the body’s flexibility and vitality, with the goal to cultivate the ability to remain in seated meditation for extended periods.

Yoga Asanas and Postures

Yoga Asanas are widely known as “Yoga postures” or “Yoga positions”, but specifically translate to “pose[s] you can hold with ease”. By this definition, practices where the participant is not at ease do not qualify as asana.

Yoga in the West is commonly practiced as physical exercise or alternative medicine, rather than as the spiritual self-mastery meditation skill it is more associated with in the East.

Yoga Asanas:How Many Are They?

In 1959, Swami Vishnu-devananda published a compilation of 66 basic postures and 136 variations of those postures. In 1975, Sri Dharma Mittra suggested that “there are an infinite number of asanas”, when he first began to catalogue the number of asanas in the Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures, as an offering of devotion to his guru Swami Kailashananda Maharaj. He eventually compiled a list of 1300 variations, derived from contemporary gurus, yogis, and ancient and contemporary texts. This work is considered one of the primary references for yoga asanas in the field of yoga today. His work is often mentioned in contemporary references for Iyengar Yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, Sivananda Yoga, and other classical and contemporary texts.

In 2007, public awareness of increasing attempts to patent traditional yoga postures in the US, including 130 yoga-related patents in the US documented that year, prompted the government of India to seek clarification on the guidelines for patenting asanas from the US Patent Office.To clearly show that all yoga asanas are public knowledge and therefore not patentable, in 2008, the government of India formed a team of yoga gurus, government officials, and 200 scientists from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to register all known asanas in a public database.
The team collected asanas from 35 ancient texts including the Hindu epics, the Mahabharata, the Bhagwad Gita, and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and as of 2010, has identified 900 yoga asanas for the database which was named the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library and made available to patent examiners.

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