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What is an Asana?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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An asana is a pose or posture used in the practice of yoga. It is estimated that there are thousands of asanas in the incredibly varied discipline of yoga, with around 100 in active use by yogis all over the world. Asanas range from simple, relaxing poses which can be held by people at all levels of ability to complex postures which push the limits of the practitioner's body. Typically, a yoga session involves running through a series of asanas and holding them for varying periods of time.

The word is derived from the Sanskrit asanam, “a sitting posture.” Originally, asanas were developed as positions to use for meditation. They could potentially be held for long periods of time to focus the mind and body, promoting health, stillness, and inward reflection. Asanas have since expanded to encompass a wide range of postures, some of which are quite physically challenging, and they continue to be used during meditative practice, although meditation is not required for yoga. In many cases, the longer an asana is held, the more beneficial it will be to the yogi or yogini.

An asana is meant to fulfill several functions. In one sense, asanas promote strength, flexibility, and muscle tone, creating a generally stronger, healthier body. An asana is also designed to promote the flow of energy through the body; in yogic tradition, this energy is known as prana. Yogis who meditate as part of their self practice enjoy the focus and flow of energy which holding an asana can promote; yogis who practice primarily for health reasons may find themselves feeling rested and more emotionally balanced with long-term yoga practice.

Traditional asanas are only one part of the practice of yoga, which is a religious practice in India. They are designed to stretch and internally massage the entire body, with twisting, bending, and holding accompanied by periods of relaxation. Many people find that integrating a few asanas into their daily stretching routine is quite beneficial; common asanas include back bends, stretches of the legs and arms, and standing poses to promote good posture and balance.

A number of people practice specific series of asanas, such as the sun salutations used in hatha yoga. This wiseGEEK writer enjoys several rounds of sun salutations in the morning because this sequence of asanas helps to enliven the body, and it can set a positive tone for the day. Asanas are also useful for people who want to be quickly refreshed at work, as an asana or two only takes a moment, but it can help to clear the mind and stretch the body.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Sports n' Hobbies researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By truthunter — On Aug 20, 2012

Finally, someone clearly states that in yoga they are saying prayers to a sun god. There is no doubt in the mind of most yoga practitioners throughout the world that yoga is a religion. The muslims know it's a religion. They forbid it saying, "it has hindu spiritual teachings and is blasphemy".

By anon14972 — On Jun 28, 2008

The sun salutations mentioned above is called "surya namaskar". It is a set of asanas involving incredible flexibility and dexterity. It is done along with saying prayers to the Sun god which is actually meant for assisting in correct breathing during the entire exercise. When done with proper breathing procedures, it produced greater effect on mind and body.

By pixiedust — On Jun 28, 2008

The photo in this article, with the hands pressed together as if in prayer or meditation and balancing on one leg with the other leg bent outwards, is a standing pose called tree or vrikshasana.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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