What are yoga asanas?
If you are thinking about starting yoga, or have overheard your friends talking about yoga, you most probably have heard the word asana. Asana is a common word in yoga, with many variations. It is a Sanskrit word (Sanskrit, being an ancient language of India), with roots as far back as 400 AD.
But what does asana mean?
You can find everything you need to know about asanas – including some examples of asanas – below.
What Does Asana Mean?
An asana in yoga is simply a yoga pose, posture, or position.
Originally, asana meant a sitting meditation pose, or meditative posture. However, now, it is more broadly used to encompass all the poses in modern yoga – no matter whether it is a seated pose, standing pose, balance pose, or inverted pose. There are 84 asanas in total.
“Asana” is also used as a suffix to signify the type of yoga pose. The prefix is often a noun in Sanskrit, such as an animal. For example, crow pose in Sanskrit is kakasana – asana meaning pose and kaka meaning crow.
Benefits Of Yoga Asanas
Asanas are often put together as part of an exercise routine, or yoga flow. As all asanas are poses – some easy, some hard – there are many benefits to learning the different asanas and incorporating them as part of a yoga exercise routine. These include flexibility, balance, stretching, blood circulation, strength, weight loss and muscle growth.
In addition, a core element of yoga is breathing, relaxation and meditation. While holding and moving between different yoga asanas, you will learn how to control your breathing while “letting go” of all inhibitions. This yoga practice is known as pranayama in Sanskrit, aiming to connect the mind and the body.
Why Are There 84 Asanas?
Traditionally, there are 84 asanas in yoga. Why are there 84 asanas?
For one reason, 84 is considered a sacred number throughout the history of spiritualism. It is thought to signify the connection, or harmony, between a living thing and the universe.
Another reason is tradition. In various historical texts, such as the Goraksasataka and Shiva Samhita, it is written that there are 84 asanas. This number has stuck over the years, despite the ever-growing number of asanas, as well as which asanas are included among the “original” 84.
Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana & Adho Mukha Shvanasana
Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana and Adho Mukha Shvanasana are common asanas, also known respectively as upward facing dog and downward facing dog. Shvana means dog in Sanskrit.
Both of these asanas provide spine flexibility and shoulder strength.
Virabhadrasana is another popular yoga asana, more widely known as warrior pose. Virabhadra is a warrior is Hindu mythology. In Sanskrit, vira means brave and bhadra means prosperous.
There are three variations of warrior pose (warrior 1, 2 and 3), each teaching balance, strength, and focus.
Paschimottanasana & Uttanasana
Paschimottanasana and Uttanasana are bending poses. Paschimottanasana is seated forward bend and uttanasana is standing forward bend. Paschima refers to the back of the body in Sanskrit, while uttana means intense stretch.
Both asanas involve bending forwards (one performed seated, the other standing), improving flexibility, hip flexor and hamstring strength.
Vrksasana is tree pose. This is another popular yoga pose that you might have already seen. Vriksa means tree in Sanskrit.
Tree pose is a standing asana that involves balancing on one leg with the hands placed together. It teaches balance, focus, and breathing, frequently used in meditative yin yoga.
Garudasana is an eagle pose. In Sanskrit, eagle is garuda.
Garudasana is similar to vrksasana in that it is a one-legged balancing pose. The main difference is that the legs are crossed, with the grounded leg slightly bent. It is considered more difficult than vrksasana. This asana teaches balance, focus, and breathing.
Tadasana is a beginner yoga pose, also known as mountain pose. Tada commonly refers to mountain In Sanskrit.
Tadasana is a simple yoga pose that involves standing up tall, relaxing the shoulders and arms, grounding the lower body through the feet and legs, and expelling unwanted energy through controlled breathing.
Savasana is another simple yoga pose, like tadasana, that involves lying down. It is often included at the end of a yoga routine. Sava means corpse in Sanskrit, hence its English name corpse pose.
To get into corpse pose, or savasana, one must lie down on their back and consciously relax all the muscles of the body, while maintaining regulated breathing.
Kakasana & Bakasana
Kakasana and bakasana are intermediate yoga poses in arm balancing yoga, which can lead to more advanced yoga poses. In Sanskrit, kaka means crow and baka means crane.
Both asanas involve balancing on the hands with both feet off the floor and the knees tucked into the chest, teaching strength and balance. The difference between the two asanas is that kakasana is performed with bent arms, while bakasana is performed with bent arms.
Mayurasana is an advanced yoga pose that requires significant strength and balance. It is also known as peacock pose, mayura meaning peacock in Sanskrit.
Mayurasana involves balancing on the palms with bent arms and the body held straight in a horizontal position. It provides improved balance, shoulder strength, and core strength.
Vrischikasana is scorpion pose. This is another advanced yoga pose that requires strength, balance, and flexibility. In Sanskrit, vrschika means scorpion.
Mimicking the shape of a scorpion, vrischikasana involves balancing on the forearms with the legs and feet suspended over the body. This asana teaches flexibility and balance.
How to Start Yoga
Are you interested in starting yoga?
Now that you know what asana means, as well as some examples of asanas, you already have a basic understanding of what yoga involves and what the benefits of yoga are.
There are various styles of yoga to try, from the slow-paced and relaxed style of yin yoga to the more physical style of ashtanga yoga. Hatha yoga is the most common style, often seen as a modern, all-encompassing form of yoga for both beginners and long-term yoga practitioners.
No matter the fitness level or age, anyone can begin yoga to start enjoying its benefits.