Asana means ‘seat’ in Sanskrit, and in yoga it is used to refer to any physical yoga posture. Asana is just one of the eight limbs of yoga. But it is perhaps the most well known, as most people in developed countries think of postures when they think of yoga.
So why is yoga asana so important? Can moving your body through a series of poses really make that much difference to your health and wellbeing? To your quality of life?
And can asana combat the effects of stress and make you happier?
Asana Cultivates Awareness…
Physical yoga postures have a powerful effect on the body. They strengthen and stretch muscles, creating length and stability and promoting a healthy digestion. But asana also plays an important role in cultivating awareness.
We lead busy lives. It’s hard for us to switch our focus from our to-do lists to very subtle aspects of human experience. But asana provides a bridge between our external focus and internal focus; because it allows us to start training our awareness by using our bodies.
It’s much easier to become consciously aware of your body, and then gradually pull that focus in to your emotions and state of mind, than to jump straight in at the deep end and lose your concentration along the way.
Asana is a training tool for the mind and consciousness. By practising postures you develop your ability to recognise physical patterns and then, in time, you become able to recognise patterns in the mind as well.
…and Asana Reduces Stress and Anxiety
When balanced with pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation, yoga postures become a powerful tool for building a greater understanding of yourself.
Generally speaking, a body sensation will have a thought associated with it, whether that be conscious or unconscious. Becoming aware of physical sensations is a step towards identifying the relationship between your physical and emotional experiences.
For example, through consistent practice, you might discover that a particular physical trigger causes a specific emotional state, over and over again.
And when you become aware of that you can begin to regulate your emotions in a more intentional manner, rather than suffering from fluctuating moods without understanding where they come from.
Equally, you could find that a certain external experience or emotional response causes a sensation, tightness, blockage or even pain somewhere in your body.
Many people experience digestive issues or nausea as a response to stress, for example, but don’t realise that their stress is the root of their ailment. And again, the physical and emotional awareness that grows through asana practice can lead you to that realisation; so you can manage your physical wellbeing more effectively too.
A growing body of evidence supports the notion that yoga is good for mental health. One study published in the International Journal of Yoga found that the physical practice of yoga asana can improve self confidence and body image; increase feelings of relaxation; support better interpersonal relationships; lower irritability and “encourage an optimistic outlook on life.”
Self Knowledge Gives You Choices
This kind of heightened awareness of body and self is fabulously empowering, because it gives you the choice to make changes. If you’re not aware of something, you can’t do very much about it. But if you can identify and acknowledge the root of a problem you can make the decision to change it.
Beginning yoga for the first time can be daunting. But armed with the knowledge that it really is good for you, I encourage you to step onto the mat with an open heart.
If you’d like to start your practice in a supportive and non-competitive environment, secure a spot on YFTSR 6 Week Yoga and Meditation Course to Conquer Stress and Anxiety — perfect for beginners! And those with a regular practie.