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What is an Yoga Asana?

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If you are at all familiar with yoga, you’ve at least heard the word asana used. But what exactly is that and what does it mean? The Merriam Webster definition doesn’t offer much information–they simply define asana as “any of various yoga postures.” Fortunately, there is much more complexity and interest if we explore the history and origins of the word asana in the context of yoga.

Now let’s look at the word’s origin to see if we can get more clues. Asana is Sanskrit for “manner of sitting” or “a sitting posture.” YogaBasics defines the word a bit differently, “Asana is defined as posture or pose; its literal meaning is “seat.” Originally, asanas were used as a posture for meditation. The yogic sages developed these postures to make meditative sitting more comfortable so that it could be done for longer periods of time.

The Asana Evolution

Over hundreds of years, the yogic sages decided they needed to tone and maintain the physical body if they wanted to attain the perfect mental state. After all, if your legs or back hurt while you are meditating, it will be much more difficult to attain and maintain a pure meditative state.

As a result, the asanas blossomed from sitting poses to all manner of poses created with the same goal in mind: perfecting the body in order to perfect the mind. Over hundreds of years, yogi masters added to and perfected the yogic asanas to promote optimal health and energy flow throughout the body. But until yoga came to the West, the asanas were always associated with attaining perfect meditation, rather than physical perfection.

Attaining the Perfect Asana

It’s easy to think that by attaining an asana posture if even for one second, you’ve perfected the pose. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

To perfect an asana is not necessarily about attaining the pose perfectly. The girl pictured above in the Lord of the Dance pose may not be practicing yoga perfectly, even though her posture is perfect. The only way we could know if she was practicing correctly is if we knew what was going on inside her mind.

You see, it’s not about physical perfection when practicing the asanas – it’s about mental perfection. Is her mind perfectly still and quiet? Does she physically struggle to hold the pose, disrupting her mental peace of mind? These questions are more important than her physical ability to attain the pose.

So please remember, even if you cannot do a pose “perfectly,” it’s more important to focus on holding the pose as best you can while maintaining a calm, collected and peaceful mind.

In this way, you will become a perfect yogi.

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