Significance of Asana (Body Codes)

Animal postures

Many of the asanas described in this book are named after and reflect the movements of animals. Through observation, the rishis understood how animals live in harmony with their environment and with their bodies. They understood, through experience, the effects of a particular posture and how the hormonal secretions could be stimulated and controlled by it. For example, by imitating the rabbit or hare in shashankasana they could influence the flow of adrenaline responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. Through initiating animal postures, the rishis found they could Maintain health and meet the challenges of nature for themselves.

Yogasanas and prana

Prana, vital energy, which corresponds to ki or chi in Chinese medicine, pervades the whole body, following flow patterns, called nadis, which are responsible for maintaining all individual cellular activity. Stiffness of the body is due to blocked prana and a subsequent accumulation of toxins. When prana begins to flow, the toxins are removed from the system, ensuring the health of the whole body. As the body becomes supple, postures that seemed impossible become easy to perform, and steadiness and grace of moven1ent develop. When the quantum of prana is increased to a great degree, the body moves into certain postures by itself, and asanas, mudras, and pranayamas occur spontaneously.

Yogasanas and kundalini

The ultimate purpose of yoga is the awakening of kundalini shakti, the evolutionary energy in man. Practicing asanas stimulates the chakras, distributing the generated energy of kundalini all over the body. About thirty-five asanas are specifically geared to this purpose: chakrasana for Manipura. chakra, sarvangasana for vishuddhi, sirshasana for Sahasrara, and so on. The other asanas regulate and purify the Nadis, facilitating the conduction of prana throughout the body. The main object of hatha yoga is to create a balance between the interacting activities and processes of the pranic and mental forces. Once this has been achieved, the impulses generated give a call of awakening to Sushumna Nadi, the central pathway
in the spine, through which the kundalini energy ascends to Sahasrara chakra, thereby illumining the higher centers of human consciousness. Hatha yoga, therefore, not only strengthens the body and improves health, but also activates and awakens the higher centers responsible for the evolution of human consciousness.

Yogasanas and the body-mind connection

The mind and body are not separate entities, although there is a tendency to think and act as though they are. The gross form of the mind is the body and the subtle form of the body is the mind. The practice of asana integrates and harmonizes the two. Both the body and the mind harbor tensions or knots. Every mental knot has a corresponding physical, muscular knot and vice versa. The aim of asana is to release these knots. Asanas release mental tensions by dealing with them on the physical level, acting somato psychically, through the body to the mind. For example, emotional tensions and suppression can tighten up and block the smooth functioning of the lungs, diaphragm, and breathing process, contributing to debilitating illnesses in the form of respiratory disorders. Muscular knots can occur anywhere in the body: tightness of the neck as cervical spondylitis, the face as neuralgia, etc. A well-chosen set of asanas, combined with pranayama, shatkarmas, meditation, and yoga Nidra, is most effective in eliminating these knots, tackling them from both the mental
and physical levels. The result is the release of dormant energy; the body becomes full of vitality and strength, and the
mind becomes light, creative, joyful, and balanced. Regular practice of asana maintains the physical body in an optimum condition and promotes health even in an unhealthy body. Through asana practice, the dormant energy potential is released and experienced as increased confidence in all areas of life.

Yogasana and exercise

Yogasanas have often been thought of as a form of exercise. They are not exercises, but techniques that place the physical body in positions that cultivate awareness, relaxation, concentration, and meditation. Part of this process is the development of good physical health by stretching, massaging, and stimulating the pranic channels and internal organs, so asana is complementary to exercise. Before the difference between the two can be understood, it is necessary to know that exercise imposes beneficial stress on the body. Without it the muscles waste, the bones become weak, the capacity to absorb oxygen decreases, insulin insensitivity can occur, and the ability to meet the physical demands of sudden activity is lost. There are several differences in the way asana and exercise affect body mechanisms. When yogasanas are performed, respiration and metabolic rates slow down, the consumption of oxygen and the body temperature drop. During exercise, however, the breath and metabolism speed up, oxygen consumption rises, and the body gets hot. Yoga postures tend to arrest catabolism whereas exercise promotes it. In addition, asanas are designed to have specific effects on the glands and internal organs and to alter electrochemical activity in the nervous system.

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