FIRM AND PLEASANT CORPORAL TECHNIQUE
Asana is any position that is firm and pleasant (sthira sukham asanam). This is the broad and laconic definition from the Yôga Sútra, chapter II, 46. According to this definition, the number of asanas is infinite.
Another definition, this one attributed to Shiva, confirms that of Pátañjali: there are as many Asanas as there are human beings on the face of the Earth.
Others, however, limit the number of Asanas to 84,000, of which 840 are the most important and, of these, only 84 are considered fundamental. In the current book, we present 2,000 asanas. It is the largest compilation yet achieved in the history of Yôga in the world.
But, what is an asana after all? Asana is the corporal technique that, for many people, is the most prevalent stereotype of Yoga. This is due to the fact that, among all the techniques of Yôga, the only one which is photographable, filmable and able to be demonstrated in public is ásana. It is possible to photograph yoganidra, film pranayama or demonstrate mudra but it is of little. As a result of these facts, this anga has ended up being the one which is most well-known.
Ásana is corporal technique, yes, but it is not exclusively corporal. It has nothing to do with gymnastics or physical education. Its origins are different, its purposes are different and the methods of executing it are different. This is why, in Yôga, we do not need many things that are fundamental in Physical Education like, for example, muscular warm ups. In Ancient Yôga, we do not use this before executing ásanas. For those who are interested in a comparative study of Yoga and Physical Education and their distinctions, we will recommend one of our books (Everything About Yôga) so as not to repeat an explanation that has already been published elsewhere.
In order to economize on words, people tend to refer to asanas exclusively through a corporal prism. Yet, any technique does not deserve the name asana unless it incorporates other elements.
If it is physical exercise, it is not Yôga. In order for a technique to be considered an ásana, it must have the following three elements:
2. Coordinated breathing; and
3. Interior attitude.
The position needs to be:
b) comfortable; and
The breathing needs to be:
b) profound (abdominal and complete); and
c) with rhythm.
The interior attitude needs to have:
a) localization of consciousness throughout the body;
b) mentalization of images, colors and sounds; and
c) bháva (deep sentiments or reverence).
Article written by Marcello Oliveira, Instructor of SwaSthya, The Ancient Yoga and member of The International University of Yoga.