Did you know that Yoga scriptures recognize there are three types of asanas?
1. meditative postures / asanas
2. relaxation postures / asanas
3. cultural postures / asanas
The meditative postures are ordinarily used for the practice of meditation and pranayama. While practicing these asanas it is very important to be relaxed. During the meditative asanas, the yogin aims for holding the pose for long periods of time (up to several hours) to encourage and allow prolonged sessions of pranayama and meditation in perfect stillness and comfort. Eventually the yogin transcends the asana, not feeling her/his body, and focusing on the inner, subtle aspects of the practices.
Meditative asanas are cross-legged sitting postures which allow you to sit upright and relaxed for a longer period of time. They provide a stable seat for meditation. The aim is to train your body so you can sit a long time without moving any part of your body. Remember the more the body moves, the more the mind is set into motion. In the Raja Yoga Sutras the asana is defined as a steady, firm, and comfortable posture.
There are five main meditative postures:
- Padmasana or lotus
- Siddhasana or half lotus
- Swastikasana or locked-ankles pose
- Sukhasana or easy pose
- Vajrasana for people who cannot sit cross-legged
Asanas for relaxation are designed in a way that there is no need to contract any muscle. It is important to practice them exactly so your body can enter a state of deep relaxation. Each time you allow the body to completely relax during your asana class, you are allowing the prana (vital energy) and blood, to move freely throughout the entire system. Relaxation asanas are a crucial part of all Hatha Yoga practices.
There are three main relaxation postures:
- Savasana or corpse pose
- Abdominal relaxation pose - lying on your belly with big toes touching
- Garbhasana / Balasana or child's pose
Cultural asanas are practiced with more intensity. While doing asanas the Hatha yogin is aware that there are three main groups of muscles in the body. For each asana, some muscles are relaxing, some are stretching and some are contracting. The art of Hatha Yoga consists in relaxing deeply the first two groups while contracting forcefully the last group.
During the practice, the stretched muscles should be lengthened to the limit. The limit is the pain and one should stop the stretching just before feeling any pain. One should feel a good, intense stretch. During the practice the breath should always be kept under control. This aids in focusing the mind.
The cultural asana group contains the largest amount of asanas. It is said that there are 84 lakhs (8.4 million) yoga postures. Of these, 84 are more important and 12 of them constitute the structure of the Rishikesh India sequence sometimes called Sivananda series or Yoga Vidya series.
The cultural asanas can be divided in seven groups:
- Dynamic sequences - such as sun salutation
- Inverted postures - such as headstand, shoulderstand or handstand
- Forward bending postures - such as sitting forward bend
- Backward bending postures - such as cobra , locust , or bow poses
- Twisting postures - such as the half spinal twist
- Side ward bending postures - such as the triangle pose
- Standing postures including balancing poses - such as the tree pose, warrior variations, etc.
Every yoga sequence should contain at least one out of every group listed above. If you take one asana from every group, you will move your spine in every direction and use all the muscles of your body. Depending on the order in which you practice them, you influence the flow of the prana in your body. It is highly recommended to practice from the top down (crown to root) or the bottom up (root to crown).
~ Information gathered from the books Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananada and the Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga by Swami Vishnudevananda; both disciples of the great Yogi, Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh India.