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The meaning of asana

rightmindyoga
David Schouela

The word asana literally means "to take one's seat". The great first century sage, Patanjali, in his famous yoga sutra, the "declaration of independence" for all students of yoga, refers to asana as both the inner and outer posture one takes in seated meditation. At first glance this would seem at odds with our modern interpretation and understanding of asana that we are accustomed to finding in sweaty yoga studios on practically every street corner of urban America. In fact hatha yoga, the yoga of movement, did not come into existence until the beginning of the second millennium approx 1000 years after Patanjali wrote his famous sutra. However the contrast between the ancient and contemporary meaning of asana ends at a superficial level.

One can be in a yoga flow moving from one posture to the next in quick succession while being "in one's seat" fully present to the ebb and flow of experience from moment to moment. Hatha yoga invites the practitioner to remain still within the movement of life. By that I mean being fully present to sensations of body and breath as they arise and pass away. Practicing in this way over and over again the yogi learns a powerful truth. All things are impermanent. Everything that arises must pass away. All conditioned phenomena are subject to the forces of birth and decay. This is the great lesson of yoga.

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