The Purpose of Yoga Postures
“Asana means the posture that brings comfort and steadiness. Any pose that brings this comfort and steadiness is an asana. If you can achieve one pose, that is enough.”
-Sri Swami Satchidanana
Yoga postures, or asanas, are what you would typically see in a “yoga class.” These include moves such as tree pose, bridge, warrior, triangle, and even sitting.
For some reason, I have always had an inquisitive mind, and wondered the root reason behind the creation of all these postures. Was it just because it looked cool? Standing on my head is cool. Was it to simply achieve more flexibility or prevent injury, or perhaps recover from an injury? Were these postures used to tune our frequencies with the planets? Or perhaps even something beyond this?
As with anything in life, I cannot simply tell anyone the purpose of yoga postures. Individuals must discover the purpose for themselves, and perhaps the purpose varies from person to person. But, I would like to share what I have experienced and read in regard to Yoga postures, and what purpose I have found by consistently practicing them.
The Purpose of Yoga Postures
When I was introduced to yoga postures, they appeared a lot like the stretching I had been doing for years in sports I had played. The only difference was synchronizing my breath with each movement and really paying attention to how I felt with each movement. There were also some postures I had never done before, such as Warrior.
I began practicing under the direction of a good friend, and over the weeks, I found that my flexibility increased exponentially. I also had a reduction in pain and generally felt better. I became less fearful of expressing my true nature to others. Anxieties tended to decrease as well.
Further, I noticed that impurities which I held in my body, such as gas, began to be flushed out. Perhaps TMI, but there are several, “wind-relieving” poses in Yoga. The chronic stiffness that I held in my back and neck began to dissolve. Nearly every noticeable impurity that I held began to rise to the surface, and with the breath and through relaxation, I was able to allow them to pass.
So, I think the initial purpose of the postures is to relax and cleanse the physical body.
The second purpose comes as you gain increased awareness of your body and mind. Through synchronizing breath with movement, I became very aware of my bodily impurities. I also began to notice how certain external things affected me, such as food. Over the period of a few years, I naturally stopped eating meat, because I noticed it caused me to be more irritable, stressed, and to gain weight. I ate healthier, slept more soundly, and was more helpful to everyone I came across. So, the second purpose of practicing yoga postures, in my opinion, is to foster self-awareness and self-acceptance.
With the continued practice of Yoga, more and more of my fears and insecurities came to the surface. But, when one practices asanas consistently, their body becomes strong and flexible, like steel. Yoga fosters grounding, so when even hurricanes pass by, my roots are well established in the Earth, and I may sway a bit, but I am not uprooted. Yoga has taught me this, to accept that life will be challenging, but so long as I stay grounded, I can weather any storm.
Further, the practice of posture prepares the body for meditation. Once my hips opened up, my back tension released, and the agitation in my mind subsided, I was able to begin learning meditation, also an integral part in the practice of Yoga. Through meditation, I was able to observe the dualities of life within the framework of my own body. Asanas prepared me to be able to sit for one hour straight without moving, simply observing my breath and whatever sensations arose in my body, whether they be heat or cold, pleasure or pain, pressure or lightness. Through observation, I was able to, at least for short periods of time, remain equanimous to sensations whether they were pleasant or unpleasant. When one can overcome craving for something good and running away from something bad, they cultivate equanimity and everlasting peace. So, the practice of postures has put me on the right track to consistently live in a meditative state, rising above illusions of suffering and joy.
Therefore, the proper practice of Yoga postures cultivates many beneficial attributes to the human being. The body becomes stronger and more flexible, the mind becomes more tranquil and concentrated, and the relaxation of the mind and body allow the spirit to shine through, fostering peace, service to the self, and service to humanity.
How lucky we are to live in a time in which we can learn such a beneficial practice virtually any place in the world, and even online!