Updated: Mar 8, 2021
What is an Asana?
Sadhguru: An asana is a posture. There are innumerable postures your body can take. Among these, certain postures have been identified as “yoga asanas” or yogasanas. “Yoga” means that which takes you on to a higher dimension or higher perception of life. So, that kind of posture which leads you to a higher possibility is called a “yogasana.”
Asanas and Emotions
You may have noticed that for different mental and emotional situations that you go through, your body naturally tends to take a certain posture. If you are happy, you sit one way. When you are unhappy you sit another way. When you are peaceful you sit one way, if you are angry you sit another way. Many times, you can tell what is happening with someone by just observing the way they are sitting, have you noticed? Based on this, conversely is the science of asanas – by consciously getting your body into a certain posture, you can also elevate your consciousness. You can change the very way you feel, think, understand, and experience life by sitting in a particular way.
Asanas and Awareness
Yogasanas are not exercises. They are very subtle processes of manipulating your energy in a certain direction. It needs to be done with a certain level of awareness. There are various levels of doing asanas. You can practice asanas just physically, or more deeply, being aware of the breath, sensations, reverberations, being aware of the nadis, or with appropriate mantras. You can even do asanas without moving a limb. That is also possible.
The Science of Asanas
The science of asanas is known as hatha yoga. “Ha” means sun, “ta” means moon. The first process of yoga is to bring balance between the masculine and feminine in you. Otherwise there will be no scaling of consciousness. This is why Shiva is known as Ardhanarishvara – one half of him is a woman, another half of him is a man. He is a man and the very embodiment of manhood. At the same time, he is also woman, because without bringing this balance, without cultivating these two dimensions within us, there is no reaching towards the peak, there is no question of a human being flowering to his fullest possibility.
That is why the first dimension of yoga that you practice is hatha yoga. That means the yoga of the sun and the moon is bringing balance between the masculine and the feminine. That is the first step to take.
84 Asanas to Attain
Among the Yogasanas, there are 84 basic asanas through which one can elevate his consciousness. When we say 84 asanas, do not think of them as just 84 postures. These are 84 systems, 84 ways of attaining. Out of this, if you have mastery over even a single yogasana, everything that is worth knowing in the existence can be known.
Yogasanas – Creating Health, Joy and Blissfulness
Right now, when you are trying to do hatha yoga, the biggest barrier is the limitations of your body. In fact, whatever human beings want to do, the biggest barrier is their body and mind. What should have been a stepping stone has turned into an obstacle, simply because they have not explored it considerably.
After a profound and thorough exploration of the human system, the yogic system identified 84 asanas as yogasanas, 84 postures through which you can transform your body and mind into a great possibility for your ultimate wellbeing. Most other spiritual processes talk about putting down the body because the body is an obstacle. If you want to sit and meditate, your legs tell you, “I need to stretch. I need to walk.” When we ask you in the morning to stretch your body, you say, “No, I want to rest.” If you do an asana and we ask you to stretch, you say, “No, I don’t want to stretch.” But if we ask you to sit unmoving, your body wants to stretch. Likewise, it has to eat, it has to sleep, it has to relieve itself – the body needs so many things.
Taking charge of your life
The body is a constant manifestation of various levels of compulsiveness, depending upon the type of information that has gone into the system. The information that is imprinted upon your physiological system is what we refer to as the karmic body. This information determines how much compulsiveness you suffer from, and how much freedom you naturally enjoy within yourself. In hatha yoga, we are not concerned about who our fathers and forefathers were, what kind of genetics and karmic substance we received from them, and what we have imbibed in the process of living. It does not matter what has happened until this moment – we have decided to take charge of our life.
In the Indian tradition, if you are a serious practitioner of yoga, no astrologer will want to make a prediction for you, because even he understands that you have taken charge of your life. This is what a yogasana means – you are taking charge of your life. You are transforming your body and mind into a possibility in your life. It is becoming a passage, not a block. The process of transforming the body, changing the texture of the body, changing the fundamental information in the body, which makes it go in certain compulsive patterns, needs a certain determination, forcefulness, and adamancy. You are not willing to give in to the cycles of compulsiveness. You go the way you want to go.
Creating the right atmosphere
Ha and tha describe sun and moon. Hatha is about bringing a balance between the two. If these two dimensions are balanced within you, naturally, the body becomes a conducive place to live in for your being. If you mess up the place around you, you can move elsewhere. But if you mess up the body from within, you cannot go elsewhere until you die. As long as you live in this life, the body is the abode of your existence.
You must decide what purpose your body should serve. We will do the appropriate yoga for that.
It is important that an atmosphere is conducive rather than being compulsive. If your home is a very compulsive place, you will feel suffocated. Every situation, every atmosphere is set up for a certain purpose. Your home may be set up for one kind of purpose. The ashram may be set up for another kind of purpose. An industry or a business may be set up for a different kind of purpose. Every atmosphere should serve the purpose that we have set it up for. You must decide what purpose your body should serve. We will do the appropriate yoga for that. If your idea of a good life is being one step ahead of others, we will do one type of yoga. If you do not compare yourself to others, but you want to find your ultimate potential in terms of activity, we will do another kind of yoga. If all you want to do is dissolve into the ultimate nature of existence, we will do yet another kind of yoga. We can practice yoga in different ways.
An individual human being becomes who he or she is only because of what he or she perceives. You are who you are right now only because of what you have perceived in your life until now, and you will be who you will be only because of what you will perceive in future. The whole system of yoga is about enhancing perception.
The 84 yogasanas represent 84 alignments, because existence as we know it now is seen as the 84th creation.
If you hold the posture right, if your alignment is right, it matches with the cosmic alignment in some way. The 84 yogasanas represent 84 alignments, because existence as we know it now is seen as the 84th creation. The memory of these 84 creations is reflected in our body. We are trying to release and activate this memory. If one gets into these 84 postures, or if one masters a single posture and approaches the remaining 83 through that, one can know everything that has happened in creation until now, because the memory of that is within one’s system in a codified way. If this memory touches another dimension outside of yourself, it can be activated and ignited.
Yogasanas are a powerful means to connect. Do not forget, yoga means union. Union means two have become one. There are only two in existence – you and the rest of existence. In the rest of existence you may identify individual entities, but essentially, there are only two – you and the rest of existence – because there are only two dimensions of experience within you. You do not know what is up and down in this cosmos. You do not know what is forward and backward. These are all things that we have made up for convenience. Essentially, there are only two dimensions of experience – inner experiences and outer experiences.
Even the most wonderful qualities that one may have will go waste, simply because of lack of balance. Hatha yoga brings this balance.
Yoga is about creating a union between these two dimensions – inner and outer, you and the rest, you and the other. When there is no “you” and “the other,” when there is just “you” and “you,” that is yoga. Asanas are a physical form of approaching this ultimate union, because the physical body is the easiest thing to work with. If you try to come to this union with your mind, it will play too many tricks.
With the body, at least you know whether it is doing it right or not, whether it is cooperating or not. If you push the mind too hard, it will make you believe all kinds of things and dump you the next day. The body is a more reliable factor. If you work with it sensibly, the yogasanas can definitely lead to ultimate union. In the meantime, before this alignment with the ultimate happens, by getting into the postures, inner alignment happens, which will naturally create a chemistry of healthfulness, joyfulness, and blissfulness – and above all balance.
Balance is something that modern societies have ignored, and they are paying a huge price for it. Whatever your intelligence, whatever your competence, education, and qualifications – if you do not have the necessary balance, you will not succeed. You will not go very far in your life. The most important thing for people who are seeking to be successful – whether in the corporate sector, in politics, in the military, or any other field – is balance. Only if you have a balance that is not disturbed by external situations, are you capable of making use of the competence and intelligence within you. Otherwise, even the most wonderful qualities that one may have will go waste, simply because of lack of balance. Hatha yoga brings this balance.
People who have taken up hatha yoga as their way of life generally take up one asana for their life’s sadhana. This is known as Asana Siddhi. Asana Siddhi means one is able to sit in a particular way with absolute ease. For most people, whichever way they keep their body, it is not at ease. If you sit, it is not comfortable. If you stand, it is not comfortable. If you lie down, it is not comfortable. What the hell to do with this? If you give your body to the process of yoga, slowly the body becomes at ease. If you sit like this, it is absolutely at ease. It is not trying to be some other way.
Asana mastery and perception
A thinking mind cannot understand how a man can spend his whole life wanting to sit in a particular way. But everything that can be perceived can be perceived, by having mastery over a single physical posture. What you are calling as yogasanas is just to get this body geometrically in line with the cosmic geometry. If you learn to just hold it right, you can download the whole cosmos. This is yoga. If you simply sit right, everything that’s worth knowing can be known to you from within.
Ease and Stability – The Third Limb of Yoga
Patanjali describes the third limb of yoga, which is the asana, as “Sthiram, Sukham Asanam” – if you are comfortable and stable, that is all the asana is about. Because “comfort” is such a misused word, maybe a closer word to “sukha” in English would be “ease.” It simply means that your body is at ease, your mind is at ease, and your energy is at full vibrance and balance. Now you are naturally meditative. You will find full potential to your life.
Creating a Device to Receive the Divine
The reason why hatha yoga has become ugly is because people start taking it like a circus. The way hatha yoga is happening in the West scares me, because all kinds of things are done in the name of yoga that are not yoga. Recently, I was playing golf with a group of young people and they asked, “What do you do?” I just ignored the question and took my shot and kept walking. They asked somebody who was walking with me, and he said, “He teaches yoga.” Immediately, they ran up to me and said, “Can you teach us something that will give us six-pack abs?” I said, “I can give you 14 if you are interested.” This is not about sculpting your body and showing it off. This is to make the body into a fantastic vessel, a fabulous device to receive the Divine.
Hatha yoga is a phenomenal process, but today, many physical therapists and experts are writing books on hatha yoga, making people believe it is an exercise system. It is not an exercise system. Studio yoga is unfortunately just the physical aspect of it. Teaching only the physical aspect of yoga is like having a stillborn baby. If you want a living thing, it needs to be taught in a certain way. In a proper atmosphere, with a certain sense of humility and inclusiveness about the whole process, hatha yoga is a very fantastic process. If I do a two-day hatha yoga program, people will burst with tears of ecstasy simply doing asanas, and that is the way yoga needs to be done.
Fine-tuning your Asanas
Flexibility During Asanas
Questioner: Does the amount of flexibility and the parts of the body that are flexible indicate something about the person’s mental state, their personality, or even their karmic structure?
Sadhguru: That would be a very prejudiced way of looking at life. Let’s not get into judgments about people around you. That somebody is not able to bend or sit on the floor could have many reasons. It would be obnoxious and unnecessary to judge people like that. But to look at the question of flexibility in general – a muscle is useful only if it is flexible. Wherever the body wants 100% rigidity, it produced bones. Wherever it wants 75% rigidity, it produced tendons. Wherever it wants 50% rigidity, it produced cartilages. Wherever it wants total flexibility, it produced muscles.
The body structure is made up of different levels of flexibility. If every part of the body was flexible, you would sit like a bean bag.
Rigid muscles and rigid brains are no good. Only when your brain and muscles are flexible, they are useful.
Some parts of the body are rigid, some are semi-rigid, some are flexible – it is done in an intelligent manner. It should be kept the way the Creator intended it to be. A three-year-old child will be flexible enough to do any asana. You lost this flexibility because of disuse, because you are trying to save your body for the grave. You want to be in a good shape when you go, but you are not in a good shape when you are here.
Increased acidity creates rigid muscles
If there is no injury or damage of any kind to the muscles and they still are tense and rigid, you are probably generating acids in your body. You can notice this – if on a particular day, you are in a mentally tense state, the next day you will find it much harder to bend. If the acid level increases, the muscular structure tends to become rigid.
Emotions and acidity
Rigid muscles and rigid brains are no good. Only when your brain and muscles are flexible, they are useful. If you sit here joyfully, the body will not generate acids. But if you are angry even for five minutes, the acid level in your blood will increase dramatically, to the extent that it is actually poisoning you, and it is this poison that makes the muscular structure rigid. Other than that, lack of flexibility may be cultural, because you are simply not used to sitting on the floor or using your body much. In any case, we cannot judge human beings by their flexibility in the sense, “Tell me which asana you cannot do and I will tell you who you are.”
The Sequence of the Asanas
Questioner: What is the importance of the sequence in which we are doing the asanas? Can we change the order?
Sadhguru: The order is not something that you or I invented – it arises from the observation of how not only the physical body but the whole human system functions.
The right postures create comfort
In your system, there is something called skeletal comfort, muscular comfort, organ comfort, and energy comfort. If you sit in a reclining chair, your muscles will be comfortable, but your joints will be strained. You may have noticed that if you travel for some time sitting reclined in a plane or a car, by the time you reach your destination, you will be exhausted. If you sit up straight, this will not happen. If you sit in a recliner, only your muscles are relaxed, but there is a lot of stress on the skeletal system, and above all, on your organs. The vital organs in the trunk are not firmly fixed with clamps and bolts or flanges but hang in connective tissue like in nets. If you sit in a recliner, especially in a moving vehicle, your organs will suffer enormously. In a moving vehicle, you must always sit straight, so that your organs have greater comfort. If you lean back, one organ will press on the other.
Lying down after food
This is why they say you should never lie down right after food. In India, they always told you that you must eat before or just after sunset, and leave at least four hours before you go to bed, because the food should have left the stomach by then. If the stomach is full and you lie down, it presses on other organs. Let’s say you have one or one-and-a-half kilogram of food in your stomach and you lie down for a few hours, depending upon how you are lying, this weight could cause serious damage.
The order of the asanas is not according to my or your preference, it is the way the human system is made.
Don’t disjoint your energy
In Hatha Yoga, this organ comfort is always considered. Energy comfort is also considered. Your energy functions in such a way that if you activate one aspect of your energy without activating another aspect of it, your system will become disjointed. There are many disjointed bodies everywhere. Disjointed energy means living a broken life. Somehow, you may manage to live long, but no matter what enters your life, you will not be complete. You may win the lottery, you may get married to the best man or woman in the world, you may pray 24 hours of the day – no matter what you do, you will live a disjointed life.
Asana order activates the system correctly