Asana is an important part of yoga and its most well-known component. Remember that body control is not the only path, but merely one path yoga offers. Yet body control is very important and makes a great starting point for any aspiring yogi. Asana literally translates as “posture” and is derived from the Sanskrit root as, which means “to stay.”  Patanjali describes an asana as having Sthira and Sukha, or steadiness and the ability to remain comfortable. Remember these two qualities when practicing your postures, keeping in mind the very important yama of ahimsa, or nonviolence: Never work to the point of pain, because that is doing violence to your body.

 Asana brings steadiness, health and lightness of limb. A steady and pleasant posture produces mental equilibrium and prevents uncertainty of mind. Asanas are not merely gymnastic exercises they are postures. To perform them one needs a clean airy place, a blanket and determination, while for other systems of physical training one needs large playing fields and costly equipment. Asanas can be done alone, as the limbs of the body provide the necessary weights and counter weights. By practicing them one develops agility, balance, endurance and great vitality.

Asanas have been evolved over the centuries so as to exercise every muscle, nerve and gland in the body. They secure a fine physique, which is strong and elastic without being muscle-bound and they keep the body free from disease. They reduce fatigue and soothe the nerves. But their real importance lies in the way they train and discipline the mind.

 By performing Asanas, the Sadhaka first gains health, which is not mere existence. It is not a commodity which can be purchased with money. It is an asset to be gained by complete hard work. It is a state of complete equilibrium of body, mind and spirit. Forgetfulness of physical and mental consciousness is health. The yogi frees himself from physical disabilities and mental distractions by practicing Asanas. He surrenders his actions and their fruits to the Lord in the service of the world.

The names of the Asanas are significant and illustrate the principle of evolution. Some named after vegetation like the tree (vrksa) and the lotus (padma); some after insects like the locust (salabha) and the scorpion (vrchika), some after aquatic animals and amphibians like the fish (matsya), the tortoise (kurma), the frog (bheka or manduka) or the crocodile (nakra). There are Asanas called after birds like the cock (kukkuta), the heron (baka), the peacock (mayura) and the swan (hamsa). They are also named after quadrupeds like the dog (svana), the horse (vatayana), the camel (ustra) and the lion (simha). Creatures the crawl like the serpent (bhujanga) are not forgotten, nor is the human embryonic state (Garbha-pinda) overlooked. Asanas are named after legendary heroes like Virabhadra and Hanuman, son of the Wind. Sages like bharadvaja, Kapila, Vasistha and Visvamitra are remembered by having asanas named after them. Some asanas are also called after gods of the Hindu pantheon and some recall the Avataras, or incarnations of Divine Power. Whilst performing asanas the yogi’s body assumes many forms resembling a variety of creatures. His mind is trained not to despise any creature, for he knows that throughout the whole gamut of creation, from the lowliest insect to the most perfect sage, there breathes the same Universal Spirit, which assumes innumerable from.