Sage patanjali has given a simple definition of asana: “Sthiramsukham asanam” – any posture which is stable and comfortable is called asana. There are two words to be studied here: stable (sthira) and comfortable (sukha). Sthira refers to that with least movements and disturbances. And apart from the obvious meaning of not causing any discomfort, sukha also means that which will not lead to any kinds of disorders/discomfort in the future as well. So, if you are sitting hunched in front of the TV/PC and want to call that as an asana, because you don’t move and find it comfortable, think again.
This definition also debunks the idea that unless you are able to do different kinds of complicated, advanced “asanas”, you are not a skilled yoga practitioner. Ask yourself this – for how long can you sit without moving and comfortably in a posture as simple as sukhasana? 5mins? 10? 15? Maybe not even 5mins? As long as we are not able to mentally will ourselves into sitting still, this simple exercise seems impossible. Thus asanas not only involve physical effort, but require a great deal of mental participation as well.
Thus, limiting the purpose of asanas only to the physical is foolish. The purpose and benefits of asanas go much beyond that. Apart from all the physical benefits that we know (weight loss, pain management, control & elimination of various diseases etc), asanas also prepare our body & mind for the next steps in Ashtanga yoga, i.e. Pranayama, Dharana, Dhyana & Samadhi. Without a strong body & mind, it is impossible to reap the full benefits of the all these practices. Maybe this is where we are lacking in our practice; when we complain that we have been practicing pranayama & meditation for long, but the said benefits seem to evade us forever, maybe we should check on how we are practicing our asanas. Practicing asanas as described by Patanjali is the key to ideal and successful practice of yoga.
Dr. Deepa Nair BAMS, MD(Yoga)