The third step of the Ashtanga yoga is the most visible one: the asanas or the poses.
1. The difference between sports/gymnastics and asanas
Gymnastics is practiced with fast movements by the muscles and the muscle fibres. The muscles need energy in order to practice the gymnastics and hence need oxygen and glucoses. The oxygen and the glucoses get burned in order to give energy to the cells. Gymnastics and sports make the heart pump more through which the heart rate and the rate of the breathing increase.
While practicing asanas the heart rate, the breathing and the blood pressure should not increase, they should reduce. Fast movements are to be avoided. Yoga is saving of energy.
2. What does Asana mean?
Asana means posture and existence, but existence without doing anything. There is no movement during the asana, asana is a stable pose.
Sthir – Sukham – Asanam
Asana is a steady and comfortable posture
(Patanjali Yoga Sutra 2.47)
Asana is a posture without movement. But in order to obtain the asana movements are essential. There are 4 steps in practicing an asana:
2. Attaining the asana with movements
3. Asana posture: maintain a stable posture
4. Releasing the posture with movements
Step 3 is asana. Steps 1, 2 and 4 is NOT asana.
Asana is a stable and comfortable posture, but movements are necessary in order to go into the pose and undo it. These movements are to be practiced very slowly and in a very controlled way, while at the same time supporting them by the correct breathing
Stability and comfort should be present both on the physical as well as on the mental level: these two are interdependent. Steadiness and comfort are also interdependent.
3. Level of asanas
Asanas can be practiced on following levels:
Level 1: with fast movements and without steadiness
This is a non-yogic level
This is a type of exercise/gymnastics
Different muscles will be exercised and will be trained properly
The function of the joints will improve
This will not lead to the results as mentioned by Patanjali
Level 2: with slow movements but without steadiness
This type of asana is useful for students with joint problems: e.g. arthritis, frozen shoulder and joint pains.
This type of asana is useful for students who are physically not very strong
Improves blood circulation to the different muscles and joints
Level 3: with slow movements and a steadiness for a certain period
has the same advantages as 2
the posture is maintained for a certain period of time: the stretching and the contracting of the muscles will improve the blood supply of certain organs connected with this asnana.
Level 4: with slow movements, steadiness for a certain period and relaxation in the muscles
same advantages as levels 2 and 3
As the muscles are relaxed the stretch will be transferred to the internal organs, stretching their muscles as well.
This action improves the functioning of the organs
This level of asana stimulates the blood supply to the organs providing it with oxygen and glucose.
By practicing the asanas on this level we provide the organs with extra energy.
Level 5: slow movements an stability for a certain period with concentration of the mind on the organ of the body.
same advantages as level 2,3 and 4
by concentrating the mind on a specific organ, the mental energy will focus as well on that organ
As a result of this the functioning of this organ will improve
Level 6: slow movements and stability for a longer period (half an hour) with concentration and the mind on infinity
The students who want to go to the higher levels can practice some of the asanas on this level.
This level can only be reached by practicing the prior levels
By practicing asana on this level the yogi gains control over the mind
The practitioner can reach beyond the dualities of life as explained in the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali.