The yoga that most people are familiar with is Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga involves postures, or poses referred to as asana in Sanskrit. Asana means both a seat, and a posture.
Hatha yoga is only one aspect of yoga, however even a little Hatha Yoga can open a gateway to the larger spiritual tradition. Since body and mind are intimately connected, physical flexibility contributes to an increasing freedom from a rigidity of the mind.
Hatha translates as Ha meaning sun and Tha meaning moon. The sun is the soul and the moon is human consciousness. By practicing asanas on a regular basis, the body will become clean making for clear consciousness so that the sun, or soul can be shine through.
The analogy frequently used is that of windows in the home. If your windows are dirty, you will not see clearly. You must remove the accumulated dirt in order to see clearly. Hatha yoga keeps the body clean and healthy. A fundamental reason we do asana is to create a body able to sit in meditation. Pantanjali wrote about the sitting postures because these were most useful in preparing to sit still for periods of meditation.
A healthy body is important for meditation, and yogis devised many different postures (hatha) to make the body strong, sound, and flexible.
There are eighty-four classic poses that form the core of yoga practice. Each pose is done with mindfulness of when to exhale and when in inhale. All poses are done with attention to pose-counterpose so that the body is stretching in one position and then contracting in a pose that releases the stretch and relaxes certain muscle groups, preventing strain on any one area of the body. In yoga there is a saying: You are only as young as your spine. If you sit at a park or cafe and watch people as they move you can see how their body has become molded by their posture. By practicing hatha yoga on a regular basis, you will see your posture improve. Each pose works on different areas, affecting muscles, joints, ligaments, and internal organs. Asanas help to balance the physical body by regulating glandular secretions, toning muscles and nerves, massaging internal organs, and improving circulatin and digestion.
Because the movements are coordinated with the breath, the nervous system becomes calm, and overall emotional health improves as well. Asanas also affect concentration of the mind. It takes focus and concentration to move into the poses with deliberation and attention. Each pose is held for a brief period of time during which the concentration is held, focussing on the regions of the body the pose requires. I
“Constant study and trial is needed to educate and mold the limbs of the body to fit into the right frame of each posture”
“Each asana has a beautiful shape, grace, and elegance that bestows poser and makes the practitioner as strong as a diamond and, at the same time, as soft as a flower.” B.S.K. Iyengar
Asanas increase endurance, will power, and resistance to disease. Through regular practice the mind becomes calm and undesirable thoughts gradually diminish. For people with chronic pain, depression, and anxiety, asana practice will gradually help improve symptoms. Regular practice also increases a persons ability to use coping strategies to deal with the areas of life for which they have no control.
Asanas purify the subtle enery channels (nadis) and strengthen all five vital energies (pranas). They direct the flow of prana upward, aiding in the awakening of kundalini, the great reservoir of spiritual energy situated at the base of the spine. Kundalini is energy (prana) stored at the base of the spine. By doing yoga combined with meditation, this energy is activated and moves up the subtle body along the route of the chakras, or energy centers located in seven centers along the spinal axis. For many people it is unnecessary to know anything at all about this aspect of yoga because just by doing hatha yoga with dedication and attention, the effects of the practice will strengthen and energize the physical body. For yoga students who wish to delve more deeply into the more esoteric aspects of yoga, that knowledge is there to be found.