Asana in Yoga: not what you think
There are two types of asana stated in the ancient texts.
These two types are:
Cultural poses – These poses are of the non sitting postures requiring different movements of the spine before the final pose is attained and even in the final pose some special position of the spinal column is required to be maintained. They naturally require an amount of physical energy to be expended throughout and because of an out of the way position of the whole body, do not allow the mind to be free for meditation. Their aim is only to secure physical health through the balancing of Prana in one fashion or another.
Meditative poses – These are of a different nature. They are various postures of sitting. By prolonged practice, the meditative poses can be maintained for extended periods without discomfort. They offer a comfortable position to the sadhaka for Pranayama, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. They help awaken Kundalini. The traditional view is that a long and continued practice of the meditative poses are what arouse Kundalini.
These desired result of physiological features are brought about by only the meditative postures
Erect spine with the view to eliminate compression of the abdominal viscera and to free the mind from the burden of the body
Richer blod supply for pelvic region toning up the coccygeal and sacral nerves and helping the awakening of Kundalini in coordination with other Yogic practices
Minimum production of CO2 in the body, resulting in slowing the activity of the lungs and the heart and excluding body consciousness from the concentrating mind. Muscular activity increases the production of CO2 over and above the quantity of gas that is produced because of normal metabolism. This increase in CO2 is almost completely avoided in meditative poses because of the muscular activity and also metabolism is reduced to a minimum.
According to Hatha Yoga, Natha Samradaya, Patanjali, and Jnana Yoga, an pose can only be recognized as an Asana if it allows meditation on Brahma without any break. Otherwise it is condemned as miserable!
Patanjali’s first reference to asana in his Yoga Sutras comes in chapter 2 (Sadhana Pada), verse 46:
“STHIRA SUKHAM ASANAM”
Translation: A seated posture that is steady and comfortable is called asana.
“PRAYATNA SHAITHILYA ANANTA SAMAAPATIBHYAM”
Translation: a meditative pose is rendered steady by letting go of one’s efforts and meditating upon infinity.
Translation: By perfecting asana, one is no longer affected by the pairs of opposites (duality).
The objective of asana then, according to Patanjali, is to gain resistance to the ‘pairs of opposites’ (dwandwas).
Hatha Yoga Pradipika
35. Siva taught 84 asanas. Of these the first four being essential ones, I am going to explain them here.
36. These four are:– The Siddha, Padma, Sinha and Bhadra. Even of these, the Siddha-asana, being very comfortable, one should always practice it.
84. There are eighty-four postures, of various modes. Out of them, four ought tot be adopted, which I mention below:– 1, Siddhasana; 2, Padmasana; 3, Ugrasana; 4, Svastikasana.
In all of the ancient texts you will find shlokas that state that out of all the 84 lakh of poses, 84 are selected by Shiva. Out of those 84 only 2 to 6, depending upon the text, are of any importance.
The later limbs of yoga i.e. Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi, no matter the lineage, are the focus and aim of yoga.