The Yoga Pose: What’s it all about?
The yoga pose – If you’ve been to a yoga class, then you’ve been in one, in one form or another …
These various yoga positions are known as yoga asanas … and as you may have notice, in the modern yoga world their practice has taken center stage.
But the use of yoga stretches (or yoga postures) has been a relatively recent addition to yoga.
… Well, ok, I say relative, but that’s in terms of the age of yoga itself, a tradition which extends back thousands of years. The yoga poses, as we see them today, have only been used in one form or another for several hundred years now.
When Did ‘Poses’ Arrive on the Yoga Scene?
The many postures and stretches at the forefront of yoga practice today are part of the Hatha Yoga tradition, which began to come into popularity around the 15th century AD.
It has, however, only been within recent decades that yoga itself has been seen more and more as a form of physical exercise… ‘stretching yoga’, so-to-speak, to the very superficial limits of the word.
Certainly, the yoga asanas have numerous benefits upon physical health. But if we approach any yoga stretch for fitness only, then we’re missing out… and perhaps missing the point of yoga asanas altogether.
To know what I mean by this, I think it would help if we first took a closer look at the origins and evolution of the yoga pose.
What Are Asanas?
In pre-vedic times (where the origins of yoga are to be found), the Sanskrit word asana simply referred to a seat… that special place reserved for the guru, the revered teacher, or one of noble status. This word asana, now synonymous with the yoga pose in all its forms, has come a long way over many centuries. This is how it got here, and why…
The Hatha Yoga Postures
Remember that asana, or the yoga pose, is only the 3rd of the 8 limbs of sage Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga. Hatha yoga itself can be loosely seen to encompass the 3rd and 4th of these stages, namely asana and pranayama.
But it is the ashtanga yoga postures (asanas) which have, themselves, become the mainstay of modern yoga.
Don’t confuse my use of the words ‘ashtanga yoga posture’ here with the series of exercise positions used in the modern yoga style also named ashtanga yoga (or ashtanga vinyasa yoga). I’m referring here strictly to the classical asanas of the hatha yoga tradition (the 3rd limb of classical ashtanga yoga).
So, Am I Really Doing Yoga Then?
Recent decades have seen an enormous number of people jumping onto the yoga bandwagon. As a result, we’ve seen a dizzying array of ‘new yoga practices’ popping up all over the place. I’m sure that Oprah features at least one new ‘yoga craze’ ever few months!
By and large, most of what is being practices as ‘yoga’ today derives from some form or another of hatha yoga exercise. But please be aware that much being taught in the name of yoga today does not necessarily stem from the traditional teachings of yoga, nor accurately represents the practices of hatha yoga.
… I’m not just referring to some unknown yoga teacher at your local gym… Many prominent yoga personalities on the world stage have also been guilty of propagating a watered-down and easily digestible (though maybe not so easy to perform) system of physical exercises as the ‘essence of yoga’
… Even one of the most famous of all yoga teachers today (whom I shall not name) has readily admitted to simply ‘making up’ many a yoga pose.
This is not to say that there are no benefits from these exercises. But yoga is much more than a set of physically beneficial exercises…
… the overwhelming image of yoga being put forth today is that is as much about looking and feeling good as it is about anything else… and so for the newcomer to yoga (and even for the experienced practitioner), it can be difficult to really know what’s what when it comes to the practice of yoga…
It is not the intention of this website to present to you all of the misunderstandings, misguided teachings and inaccuracies about yoga that are prevalent today. It would take a whole other website to do that. (Actually, probably several websites!).
It is, rather, our intention to give you a clearer view of the yoga tradition and its many teachings. For more, we recommend these comprehensive yoga educational programs.
Traditional Yoga Poses
If we take a look at the classical texts on hatha yoga, such as the Gorakshasatakam, the Gheranda Samhita, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and the Shiva Samhita (come on, I know you’ve got a copy of these on your night stand), as well as some others written in a span from 300 to 1500 years ago, we’d see a varying degree of information and instruction on the practice of asanas.
Don’t want to dive into dusty old books? That’s ok… You don’t have to. I already did and I’ll just point out a few interesting things for right now…
…Like the Gorakshasatakam, the oldest of these shastras, reveals that there are some 8.4 million asanas! …
… Whew!… You’d better get up a little earlier tomorrow to complete that yoga session! But as was typical of the ancient writings, often large figures were used to merely convey the notion of ‘a great number’. Kind of like saying “I have a million things to do today.”
Modern scientific research has revealed that there are currently between 1.5 to 1.8 million named species, but it is commonly estimated that the actual number of species in the world ranges from 5 to 10 million (which is what this 1500 year old text already knew!)
This number 8.4 million is actually said to correspond to the number of existing species, and that each species is merely a form (posture) adopted by Shiva (God).
At any rate, sage Goraksha says that of all of these, two asanas are important, which both happen to be sitting, meditative poses.
84 Classical Asanas
The later Shiva Samhita (17th century) says that of these 8.4 million, 84 asanas are important, but still only four of these are described in this book.
This theme of 84 asanas has continued to permeate the yoga tradition, reiterated in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which describes only 15 of them, and the Gheranda Samhita, which describes 32.
…and so you’ll find that most yoga teachers today declare that there are 84 classical asanas, yet from one school to the next you will still find a lack of consensus on what those 84 classical asanas actually are.
Yoga Asana Benefits
The benefits of yoga are seemingly endless. Even on a purely physical level, the practice of yoga poses, when properly performed, can reveal many health benefits.
Tips for the Practise of Yoga Asanas:
Many of the basic yoga postures can be practised by anyone. All that is required to benefit from yoga is a sincere desire to learn, some genuine effort, and a healthy dose of patience.
Don’t get caught up in the ‘yoga class mentality’. Yoga is not a class that you go to a few times per week. It is your individual effort toward bettering yourself… on all levels. Many people who are introduced to yoga in this modern commercial environment find that they are helpless once they leave the ‘yoga studio’, and are never able to practice yoga on their own.
Yoga, in its essence, is a solitary practice… so right from the beginning I encourage you to develop the habit of practising on your own.
Basic Yoga Trainer is a wonderful step-by-step program to help you learn to develop not only a solid personal practice, but also to begin to cultivate a yogic life in every sense of the word.
Some Basic Yoga Poses
The list of yoga postures is long and the variations that have been developed on most yoga positions are seemingly endless. But for the average person, knowing, not to mention perfecting most of these, is unnecessary.
There are some basic yoga poses that form the foundation of a solid yoga practice with which every yoga student, beginner or advanced, should be familiar with.
Click here for an introduction to some of these basic yoga poses…
“Understanding Asana” presents a deeper exploration of the many facets of yoga asana and other yogic practices, including kriya and pranayama.