Updated: Sep 14, 2021
The 8 Limb Path: Asana. The third step on the path to enlightenment is asana. The word ‘asana’ literally means ‘seat’ and is the physical aspect of yoga. For most people, when they hear the word ‘yoga’, they think it begins and ends with asana. But the truth is, asana is the third of the 8 limbs of yoga, and out of the 196 sutras, there are only three sutras about asana. Contrary to popular belief, the word asana here doesn’t pertain to a student’s ability to move into impressive handstands and backbends, but rather the seat you would take for the practice of meditation.
In the Yoga Sutras, the only alignment instruction Patanjali gives is, “sthira sukham asanam”, meaning the posture should be steady and comfortable.
While traditional texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika list many suitable meditative postures, including lotus pose and hero pose, this text also shares with us that the most important posture is sthirasukhasana – meaning, ‘a posture the practitioner can hold comfortably and motionlessness’.
Next time you think of or hear the word ‘asana’, think of it as a way to be able to sit in comfort. The purpose of being able to sit comfortably for a prolonged period of time is to reach deep meditation- samadhi. We need to practice asana to bring balance to the body in order to sit comfortably. Through practicing asana, we develop self-discipline and focus, both of which are necessary for meditation.
A regular asana practice balances the lunar and solar energies within. We will dig into this more when we come into the fourth limb- pranayama.