What is the meaning of Asana?
Today, we find so many opposing ideas and opinions about asana (and Yoga in general) that it’s become impossible to see any red thread, any true meaning in all this.
We don’t want to waste time and effort. So we should better learn how to tell apart correct practice from useless or even harmful practice.
The importance of the scriptures
The purpose of all Yogic practices is defined in the original sources such as Yoga Sutra. This is also true for Asana, which is truly only a minor stepping stone of Yoga practices.
Asana according to Patanjalis Yoga Sutra
About 2000 years ago, Patañjali defined asana as:
- stable and pleasant
- free from initial (beginner’s) effort
- not tormented from the opposites
The goal of asana is (merely?) the preparation of body, ego structure, nervous system and mind for prāṇāyāma, concentration, meditation and unending (!) samādhi. Ultimately, that is all we need to achieve. Not so difficult, is it?
Asana according to Adi Śaṅkara (ca. 500-800 CE)
|“sukhenaiva bhavedyasminnajasraṁ brahmacintanam |
|One should know that as real āsana, in which Brahman fills consciousness spontaneously and
unceasingly. And not any other that destroys one’s well-being.
In the Aparokṣānubhuti Adi Śaṅkara documented the fact that asana practice has destroyed the wellbeing of many practitioners even thousands of years ago. Wow. Some things never change as it seems. So what is the true meaning of asana then? Well, true āsana is that in which self-realization arises spontaneously. It is a well made temple that invites for the fascinating experience of being fully immersed in the present moment, the true nature of reality (Brahman). This is Yoga.
Thus, Āsana is neither a mere workout for rich Westerners nor is it totally unimportant. It can remain nothing or become all. The quality of your practice makes all the difference.
Asana is not about wellness, strength, flexibility or whatever we are being told in today’s vast fake Yoga market. Many practices today have obvious harmful effects in form of physical injuries. But there are more dangerous traps. Many people today believe that the performance of physical exercises has Yogic meaning in itself, that a second series is in any way more advanced than a first and so on. The result of such fundamental misunderstanding are mental injuries (such as increasing selfishness, vanity etc). By studying the original scriptures of Yoga we can understand the creepy nature of our ego structure and see how it captures and distorts even ancient Yogic practices. Let’s learn how such mistakes can be avoided and how Yoga (according to authentic definitions) should be practiced.