What is Asana?
The meaning of the Sanskrit word 'asana' is 'a steady and comfortable posture'. It is often believed that asanas are physical exercises. And of course this is true; they do have a profound influence on the body, but this does not convey their full significance. Each person is made up of three aspects: body, mind and consciousness, which merge together to constitute our whole being. Asanas aim at influencing all these three aspects and molding and yoking them into one harmonious whole.
The prime aim of asanas is to help us tread the path to higher consciousness so we can begin to understand and know relationship with existence. we cannot even consider attaining higher awareness if we are ill with disease, aches and pains or mental depression. Therefore the initial purpose of practicing asanas is to eliminate these afflictions and disturbances. Asanas loosen up the joints of the body, stretch and tone the muscles and remove toxins which tend to accumulate in various parts of the body. They also harmonize the nervous system and with a gentle massage they improve the functioning of all the internal organs such as the heart, lungs, abdominal organs, endocrinal glands, blood vessels and so on. This slowly leads to the best possible physical health.
In the yogic texts it is said that there were originally 8,400,000 asanas, which represent the 8,400,000 incarnations every individual must pass through before attaining liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Down through the ages the great rishis and yogis modified and reduced the number of asanas to the few hundred known today.