ASANA - Classification, Levels and Method of Mastering the Asanas
Yogacharya Vishwas Mandlik
The oldest scriptures of "Vedas" found are about 5000 years old, Vedas mention about Yoga and Asanas, but the first complete text on Yoga was written by Patanjali, 500 years BC, Asana is the third step in Patanjal Yoga (Ashtanga Yoga) and First step in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika written by Swami Swatmarama (Original Text of Hatha Yoga).
The word asana is derived from the Sanskrit verb 'Aas' which means existence and state of existence is Asana or Position. Here the position of Body as well as Mind is expected in Asana.
If you consider the Asana, there are 3 steps, first is taking the position, second is the Asana or position itself and third is releasing the position.
Patanjali defines Asana as a Steady and Comfortable position so the first and third step that is taking the asana and releasing the asana should also be supporting to the definition. So it is necessary that the movement involved should be slow and steady, one should avoid fast and speedy movement and also the jerks and strains.
When there is conscious movement of muscles, the cerebral cortex is mostly used in the process. Cerebral cortex is more evolved part of the brain. Over a period of time this process allows greater cortical control, which has good profound effects on our wellbeing.
The positions as taken in aerobics or performing gymnastics, where fast movement is involved can not be called as asanas. There is no steadiness involved, no comfort is experienced in the position, in fact the focus is on performing more positions in short time interval and stretching body to the maximum limits without comfort.
Asanas on the other hand, are different as far as taking the position (slow & controlled movements), maintaining the position (steadiness, comfort & relaxation) and releasing the position are concerned. The asanas (physical positions) can be progressively achieved or mastered in 4 levels in progression.
- Asana / Position which involve stability, the body is maintained in a particular Asana for longer duration while achieving the stability of the all the muscles, whether stretched or relaxed. The effort in this is to stabilize the body and its processes. This is the first level in Asanas as per the classical definition.
- Once the stability is achieved for certain period of time in any asana, the next level is to feel the comfort in this position. One should be able to maintain the asana comfortably and feel the ease.
- After steadiness and comfort, one should try to progressively relax the muscles, with practice of relaxation, one can experience greater stability and comfort in the position. Once the body is relaxed, the mind also becomes calm and relaxed, which can be introverted or easily focused.
- And finally this mind can be easily focused on object of meditation and higher stages of experience can be realized, this level of asana is related to higher mind, the physical experience is transcended.
If one practices Asana with this 4 levels in progression then one is said to have mastered the Asana, which results in perfection on physical and mental aspects. Ideally if one can maintain an Asana for 3 hours without discomfort, it is mastery on physical level, if one can reach higher stages of meditation then it is mastering on mental level.
The natural condition of body and mind is relaxed state of being, with regular practice of Asana, this relaxed condition is achieved without efforts. So if you are just sitting in the office chair, your body will be absolutely relaxed and mind calm. There will not be any stress or strain in the body and no cluttering thoughts in the mind. Now we can easily understand what should be called as Asana and what improper Asana is.
The similar description of Asana is found in Hatha Yoga Pradipika which says that "One can achieve Sound Health, Stability, Lightness of Body and Mind with Asana".
In Gherand Sanhimata (Another text on Hatha Yoga), the author describes the effect of asana as "Perfecting the Stability of Body and Mind is the result of Asana".
We can see the other effects of asana in day to day life such as increased efficiency, stamina, increased immune capacity, quiet & calm mind, easy control over emotions, and improvement in attitude.
The asanas can be classified depending on the application of the asanas.
Meditative asanas -
Asanas like Padmasana (Lotus pose), Siddhasana (Perfect pose), Swastikasana ( Auspicious pose) Vajrasan (thunderbolt pose), samasana (balance pose) etc are called as meditative asanas. The purpose of this asanas is to stabilize the body for advance practices of Pranayama and Meditation.
Asanas for Improving health -
Asanas have good effect on various systems in human body, such as Matsyendrasana (spinal twist pose) has good effect on digestive system and good effect on pancreas for improving the insulin production, sarvangasana (shoulder stand pose) has good effects on endocrine gland system particularly thyroid glands. So the asanas which have complementary effect on various organs can be classified in this category.
Relaxing asanas -
Shavasana (corpse pose) and Makarasana (crocodile pose) are relaxing asanas, which give complete rest to body and mind.
Another way of classifying the asanas is depending on the pre position required for a particular asana, for example shoulder stand is performed from supine position so it can be classified under supine position.
- Supine position -
Lying on back in sleeping position, asanas like Sarvangasana (shoulder stand), Halasana (plough pose), Chakrasana (wheel pose) etc.
- Prone position -
Asanas like Bhujangasana (cobra pose), Shalabhasana (locust pose), Noukasana (boat pose), Dhanurasana (Bow pose)
- Sitting position -
Asanas like Padmasana (lotus pose) Matsyendrasana (spinal twist pose), Paschimottasana (forward bend pose), vajrasana (thunderbolt pose) etc.
- Standing position -
Trikonasana (triangle pose), Veerasana (warrior pose), Vrikshasana (tree pose) etc.
There can be many other ways to classify asanas. There are in all 8.4 millions asanas
as per Gherand Sanhita (a text of Hatha Yoga), but the book describes 32 asanas,
Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes 15 asanas, Hatha Ratnavali mentions 34 asanas, Goraksha
Sanhita talks about 84 asanas etc.
So studying the asanas is a subject of research, this is just introductory views on asanas to encourage more & more efforts in this field.
Yogacharya Vishwas Mandlik