THE THIRD LIMB OF YOGA, THE ASANAS
Asanas refer to the practice of physical postures and are the most well-known aspect of yoga. It is almost always the first element of yoga people are introduced to. Initially, a student will most often take yoga to help improve their health and fitness. As they experience other benefits such as stress release and a sense of calm, individuals will start to embrace yoga’s deeper limbs.
Asanas improve many elements of wellness, including strength, flexibility, balance, and stamina. Yoga postures keep the body free of disease and help to stimulate the nervous system. Yoga practices can be very demanding, as in Ashtanga or Power Yoga. There are also more gentle and relaxing styles, such as restorative and hatha yoga. Physical yoga is possible for everyone as it is non-competitive, and all the postures can be modified to what is appropriate for the student’s abilities.
Challenging the body in Asanas is a way to liberate the mind, creating a peaceful state for meditation. Each movement is coordinated with the inhalation and exhalation of the breath. This focus and synchronization of the breath assists in bringing your awareness into the present moment. The postures’ practice helps prepare the body and mind to sit quietly and still for long periods in meditation. When you can free the body from physical pain and distraction, you can then control the mind better. A supple body is required for contemplation for extended lengths of time.
The challenges of yoga postures create the opportunity to explore emotions, attitudes, intention, and faith. The physical postures move you into a state of grace that comes from creating a balance between the material world and spiritual experience. The postures allow you to become more grounded in your body and have a healthier relationship with it. The practice of Asanas brings imagination and reality into harmony, exposing our strengths and limitations. When we hold a stillness posture, we can look inward and receive a great deal of information about ourselves. When we fully engage in our yoga practice, we can allow external thoughts to melt away, so we become entirely connected to what is happening to our bodies internally. On a deeper level, yoga creates a mind, body, and spirit integration.
Although the Asanas are only one of the eight yoga limbs, it is the most comfortable place for students to begin their practice. Asanas are the foundation of yoga. We start by honoring the wisdom of the body working within our limits of flexibility and strength. From here, we learn to cultivate inner peace.
“Perfection in asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached” Pantanjali (The Father of Yoga)
“Posture is masked by freeing the body and mind from tension and restlessness and meditating to the infinite” Pantanjali (The Father of Yoga)