Asanas or postures are a very tiny aspect of yoga, contrarily of what most of the people think, yoga is far to be just postures. None less, asanas are very effective tools in one’s own development. At their foundation asanas have been developed by the yogi to ease the holding of a steady comfortable posture during meditation time. But gradually the yogi’s have understood that asanas were hiding much more then what they were first thought for.
For thousands of years asanas have been developed under the awareness of the yogis and have become wonderful tool to guide and help us to optimize and awaken the latent inner potential of our human nature. Asanas are tools for the realization of our Self and our own existence.
Asnasas work on many different aspect of the body, or if can say ‘the bodies’ because according to the yogic philosophy the human body is divided in five different layers or bodies call koshas on which we will come back on a subsequent chapter. Asanas works primarily on the physical body by reinforcing and maintaining our anatomic structure by toning and massaging the internal organ, by regulating our endocrine glands, by lubricating our articulations and by stretching and feeding our muscles and other body tissues.
Another important aspect of asanas is that it optimizes the operation of our lymphatic system having for consequence a better performance of our immune system.
Asanas work as well on the energy body. Our physical body is a storehouse for our tension, so many people have stiff shoulder, stomach pain, back pain etc all those because of inner stress, inner tension. Those tension create energy block, they stop or reduce the free flow of energy in our body. Asanas are perfect tools to first of all show us our inner tension by giving us opportunity to observe them, and they are perfect tools to help us get rid of those tensions by working on them step by step. Asanas work as knot releaser, when then tension let place to relaxation the energy in the body start to flow freely and our whole being start to reawaken.
And certainly asanas by inducing a better circulation, a better health and a better flow of energy it directly influence the mind and the mental condition of the practitioner. In many ways assanas influence the mind like for exemple by learning to observe our condition whitout reacting to it but more by accepting, understanding and acting with it. Balancing asanas has a very interesting impact on our mental balance as well. To get our body balance we have to get our mind focus and a focus mind is a healthy mind. Most of the time if you notice your periode of mental imbalance you will notice how spread are your thought or just how your mind have control over your thought. Concentration and relaxation are powerful practices, which induces important transformation into one’s life.
Those are just a few exemples of the very incredible benefit one can have by regularly practicing asanas.
The following description come from the book Asana Pranayama mudra bandha from Swami Satyananda Saraswati publish by Bihar Yoga.
You can find the free copy of this book and many other from their publication with their mobile application (Satyam Yoga Prassad).
Forward bending is a passive process in which gravity is utilized to stretch the muscle. while backward bends move the body away from the confines of gravity, forward bending Asanas use gravity to help release tension and pain. It remains a process of introversion, counteracting the extroversion and dynamic opening up of bending backwards. Forward bending, associated with chest compression and exhalation, and induces relaxation. Many people lead sedentary lifestyle with little or no exercise and as a result the body becomes stiff and unable to bend forward.
Forward bending is also associated with bowing and humility. An inability to bend forward may indicate a stiff, proud or something bad with your personality. Difficulty bending forward is also associated with fear. Human beings face forward to see the world. Some people live in constant fear of attack from behind and the backs of their bodies unconsciously freeze, forward bending Asanas release this rigidity.
Forward bending Asanas loosen up the back, maintaining good health and increasing vitality. These practices move the spine into the position known as the primary curve. During a forward bending asana each of the vertebra is separated, stimulating the nerves, improving Circulation around the spine and nourishing the spinal cord. This has a positive impact on the organs of the body generally on the brain specifically. This group of Asanas is also very important for making the back muscles, supple and strong, compressing and massaging the abdominal organs, including the liver, kidneys, pancreas and intestines, and stretching the leg muscles and tendons. Most forward bending Asanas start by bending from the hips and not the waist. Ending from the hips gives greater flexibility of movement and creates a stronger pressure against the abdomen. Care must be taken not to force the back to bend further forward than present flexibility will allow; rather, the muscles should be relaxed, allowing gravity and exhalation to move the body. With regular practice even the most rigid back will develop increased flexibility.
It is not necessary to practice all the forward bending Asanas one after another. Start with the preliminary practices and gradually build up to the more advanced ones, as the back becomes more flexible. People with any kind of back condition and those suffering from backache should consult a doctor before practicing these Asanas. When practicing forward bending asanas from a sitting position, particularly those in which the legs are separated, it is helpful to sit with the perineum on the floor. The correct position is obtained by sitting with the legs slightly separated and placing the hands on the floor, on either side of the hips, with the fingertips pointing forward. Then using the arms and hands as supports, lift the buttocks slightly from the floor and while lowering them, try to tilt the pelvis forward.
Backward bending Asana
The backward bending Asanas are stimulating and extroverting, because they expand the chest and encourage inhalation, they are associated with the attitude of embracing life. They are dynamic postures which require strength and energy to perform. Some people are known to bend over backwards to please others and these people often have the same ability on the physical level. Those who have difficulty in bending backwards, may be frightened to face life. Their effects reach far into the depths of the mental and psychic bodies, helping to reshape the body and personality.
On a physical level, the backward bending Asanas stretch the abdominal muscles and tone and strengthen the muscles controlling the spine, helping prevent slipped disc and other back conditions. The spinal nerves, which emerge from between the adjoining vertebrae, are also toned. This has beneficial repercussions throughout the body since these nerves give energy to all the other nerves, organs and muscles in the body. The spinal column is a 'stacked pile' of vertebrae and discs. groups of muscles extend all along it, covering and supporting it from all sides. The muscles themselves are controlled unconsciously through posture, subconscious tensions and 'hang-ups' are often reflected in the tonic activity of the back muscles. The practice of backward bending Asanas can correct postural defects and neuromuscular imbalances of the vertebral column. As with all Asanas it is important to perform these practices with proper control and synchronisation of the breath so that the whole group of muscles is uniformly contracted.
Impure blood has a tendency to accumulate in the back region where circulation tends to be sluggish due to continuous maintenance of an upright position. These Asanas will help to circulate, purify and enrich the blood in this region. Backward bending Asanas create a negative pressure in the abdomen and pelvis, helping neuro-circulatory toning of all the related organs. They also massage the abdomen and pelvic organs by stretching the muscles in this area, especially the rectus abdomini.
This series of asanas has stretching and strengthening effect on the back, shoulder and legs muscles. they are particularly useful for those who spend a lot of time sitting down or who have stiffness or pain in the back. they improve posture, balance and muscular coordination. They also strengthen the muscles used to keep the back straight during meditation and increase oxygenation and lung capacity. Those who suffer from sciatica or slipped disc may practice hasta utthanasana, akarna dhanurasana and tadasana but should not practice any of the other standing asanas except under the guidance an expert yoga teacher.
Spinal twisting asanas
This is an important series of Asanas for spinal health. Every Asana programe should include at least one practice from this group, preferably following the forward and backward bending postures. The twist imposed on the spine and the whole trunk exercises the muscles, makes the spinal column more flexible and stimulates the spinal nerves. It also has a strong influence on the abdominal muscles, alternately stretching and compressing them as the body twists from one direction to the other. Beginners must be careful not to twist the trunk more than flexibility will allow. Most of the spinal twist Asanas enhance the Pranic flow in the Samana region, around the navel. This nourishes organs such as the pancreas, kidneys, stomach, small intestines, liver and gall bladder and also relieves associated disorders and rejuvenates the tissues generally. These Asanas, therefore, have a strong effect on total health and vitality.
On the emotional and psychic levels, controlled twisting represents a means of managing the knots and problems of life. For many people, life seems complicated and their problems appear too difficult to solve. These Asanas give an insight and inspire a systematic approach to untying the tangled knots of life.
This Inverted Asanas reverse the action of gravity on the body, instead of everything being pulled towards the feet, the orientation shifts towards the head. Similarly, on the emotional levels, inverted Asanas turn everything upside down, throwing a new light on old patterns of behavior. Generally, these practices improve health, reduce anxiety and stress, and increase self-confidence. They also increase mental power, concentration and the capacity to sustain large workloads without strain. Inverted Asanas encourage a rich supply of blood to flow to the brain, nourishing the neurons and flushing out toxins. Blood and lymph, accumulated in the lower limbs and abdomen, are drained back to the heart, then circulated to the lungs, purified and re-circulated to all parts of the body. This process nourishes the cells of the whole human organism. The enriched blood flow also allows the pituitary gland to operate more. This has a positive effect on the metabolic processes and even on ways of thinking. While the body is in an inverted Asana, the breath becomes slow and deep, maximizing the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen, and generally encouraging correct respiration. In addition, the abdominal organs: the liver, spleen, stomach, kidneys and pancreas, receive a powerful massage, helping them to perform their functions more efficiently.
Traditionally, inverted Asanas are used to sublimate and transform sexual energy into spiritual energy. The aim of the practices, in this context, is to stimulate the Chakras, open Sushumna Nadi and unleash Kundalini to bring about psychic awakening. While it is unlikely that Kundalini will be raised through practice of these Asanas alone, inverted postures undoubtedly improve the quality of meditation and concentration, refining the consciousness and enabling it to enter unexplored levels of the mind. This important group of Asanas must be performed correctly and with the utmost care. Do not practice inverted Asanas until at least three hours after taking food. Do not perform inverted Asanas immediately after vigorous exercise. Wait for half an hour to allow the body to remove the waste products of muscle metabolism from the blood. Always practice these Asanas on a folded blanket thick enough to protect the vertebra of the neck and back of the head. Never practice on a soft mattress, spring bed or air cushion. Beginners should only remain in the final positions for a few seconds. Once an Asana can be maintained without experiencing the slightest difficulty, the duration may be increased gradually until it can be held for the recommended time. Always follow inverted poses with Shavasana. Rest until the breath and heartbeat are completely normal, then practice the recommended counterposes.
Do not practice near furniture or anything that might impede a free fall to the floor. During a backward or forward fall, aim to break the fall with the feet. While falling, the body should be completely relaxed, never tense. If any discomfort occurs, discontinue the practice. People suffering from high blood pressure and back conditions, especially slipped disc, should not practice these Asanas. Those with illnesses that make the blood impure should not perform inverted Asanas until the blood is purified. Those who are uncertain about the purity of their blood should seek the advice of a yoga teacher or Ayurvedic doctor. Women should not practice inverted postures during pregnancy or menstruation. Assume the postures slowly and gently. Inverted Asanas with their counterposes are usually placed at the end of an Asana program. Never combine Mayurasana with Inverted Asanas in one practice session.
Balancing Asanas develop the cerebellum, the brain center that controls how the body works in motion. Most people are uncoordinated in their movements so their bodies constantly have to compensate for their lack of balance in order to avoid falling or knocking things over. This inefficient method of proceeding expends maximum effort and energy for the minimum results, creating considerable additional strain on the body. These Asanas induce physical balance, stilling unconscious movement. As the moving body attains balance it becomes increasingly free to rely on other forces, such as gravity, to support and propel it. This way it conserves its own energy and achieves grace and fluidity of motion.
As well as inducing physical balance, this group of practices develops a balanced mind and a more mature outlook on life. The focus required to perform them with steadiness develops concentration and balance at the emotional, mental and psychic levels. These Asanas are especially noted for balancing the nervous system and removing stress and anxiety. For relief of excessive tension these practices should be held for as long as possible.
Balancing Asanas may be difficult to perform at first if one's sense of balance has not been developed in normal life. However, the body is very adaptable and progress will quickly be made with a few weeks of regular practice. When practicing these Asanas it is most important to steady the mind through concentration on one point. Gazing at a black spot or a mark on the wall while balancing allows the body to maintain seemingly difficult positions for long periods of time.
The concept of asanas in Yoga system commences with Pawanmuktasana series. The main idea behind these asanas is to provide suppleness in the areas of body joints. We cannot practice these asnaas properly without allowing suitable suppleness in the joints. Pawanamuktasana offers right practice for making the joints supple. This asana is quite important for those people who aspire to do something great in the field of higher stages Yoga. You cannot go for higher stages asanas without proper practice of this asana. The proper practice of this asana provides flexibility in the joints and removes the hardness of the muscles. You cannot forego this asana as the subtle effect of this easy and natural practice affects the entire body and mind.
Etymologically this word - pawanmuktasana signifies three aspects which are pawana namely air, wind or the vital breath, mukta is free and asana means the sitting posture; thus this is a yoga posturethrough which the stagnant air of the body joints is expelled. These stagnant airs are the reason behind arthritis. The practice of this asana has a positive and subtle impact even regarding the heart ailments and high blood pressure. The best part is that one can perform this regardless of any age consideration. Wherefore, these days this is being applied as naturopathy and has become a popular part of modern medicine.
As most of the diseases are psychological, Yoga is a method through which we can get into the hidden facts of mind. Yoga provides agility and vigour and sets one stress free in just a few moments. This helps in restraining the mind and in the development of consciousness through which one can realize the main reason behind the stress. Further depending upon the skill, knowledge and personality one can also get the solution. Yoga raises the level of consciousness and establishes a better understanding between the mind and the body. This removes every dilemma and physical afflictions. The initial part of Pawanmuktasana is quite successful in the amelioration of joints related problems.
This series of Pawanmuktasana is mainly concerned with the Digestive System. The digestive system plays an important role in the health of a particular person. One is indeed fortunate if he/she has no problem with his/her digestive system. However these days almost everyone complains of Constipation, Acidity, Excess wind or gas, the loss of appetite. In this respect this group of Asanas will prove a real blessing. Yoga advocates great emphasis on the healthiness of digestive systems. These Asanas are also helpful regarding Varicose Veins, Asthma, Diabetes and evenSexual Disorders.
The third series of Pawanamuktasana helps in maintaining the equilibrium of unbalanced energy in the body. These asanas sustain the energy flows and break down neuro-muscular knots. They eliminate the stiffness of the shoulder muscles and the spinal chord by removing the energy blockages. Further they charge the lungs and heart and revitalize the endocrine functions. Those persons who have trouble with their genital organs or those who suffer with problems like early ejaculation or weakness are also benefited. For females these asanas are particularly helpful in regulating their menstruation. Even pregnant women can resume the practice just after two months of delivery that helps toning up their flaccid muscles around girdle zone after childbirth. Thus we can easily surmise that people who are conscious of maintaining their youthful energy should work vigorously upon these asanas.
The importance of this series of relaxation poses cannot be over-emphasized. They should be performed before and after the asana session, at any time when the body becomes tired. The Aasanas in this group appear very easy at first, yet to do them properly is quite difficult. The tension in all the muscles of the body must be consciously released.
The muscles often seem to be completely relaxed but, in fact, tightness still remains. Even during sleep, relaxation is elusive. Constant postural abnormalities put excess strain on the Muscles of the back which hardly receive proper relaxation in the conventional supine position. Therefore certain relaxation practices which are done in the prone position are very relaxing to the spine and related structures. They are especially recommended for any back/spinal problem. These postures can be adopted during any time of the day for any comfortable duration. They can be combined with relaxing daily activities as well.
By these relaxation Asanas, when one is well refreshed one feels energy flow from the back of the head towards the heels and not the other way round. One also feels as if the body is elongated. The Yogi believes that his body has been given to him by the Lord not for enjoyment alone, but also for the service of his fellow men during every wakeful moment of his or her life. He does not consider it his property. He knows that the Lord who has given him his body will one day take it away. By performing Asanas, an aspirant first gains health, which is not mere existence. The Yogi realizes that his life and all its activities are part of the divine action in nature, manifesting and operating in the form of man.