From the root as (meaning “to sit” and also “to be”), asana literally means, “sit and be.” In the yoga Sutras (written by Patanjali in about C.E. 200), the meaning became “physical posture” or “yoga posture.” The asana “seats” the body in a particular posture – standing, sitting, lying down, twisting, inverting, bending backward or forward – leading to physical opening (greater flexibility and improved flow of energy), purification, and spiritual awakening. Practicing asanas strengthens the muscles, increases flexibility and strength in the spine and joints, and encourages proper alignment while releasing tension and fatigue. They also promote healthy functioning of the internal organs. Asanas also have spiritual benefits – they promote a quiet, reflective mind that makes it possible to observe one’s own mental and physical habits and patterns and, finally become free of them. Some asanas are done in set sequences such as Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) – see description below.
This series of 12 positions, (8 different asanas (poses/postures) is called Surya Namaskar. Surya means “sun” and namaskara is a greeting given in the spirit of worship, essentially acknowledging “not of my doing, but of the Divine.” It is practiced in the early morning facing the sun. This exercise is a combined process of Yoga asanas and breathing. Each of the twelve positions shown makes one full round of surya namaskar. Ideally it is repeated twelve times (12 rounds) a day. This sequence of 12 postures can be a complete practice in itself, or can prepare you for a longer asana routine.
The Surya Namaskar reduces abdominal fat, brings flexibility to the spine and limbs, and increases the breathing capacity; and it is easier to practice asanas after doing surya namaskar postures, as the spine should have acquired some flexibility. There are twelve positions, each stretching various ligaments and giving different movements to the vertebral column. The vertebral column is bent forward and backward alternately with deep breathing. This way, flexibility increases and breathing is corrected; moreover it mildly exercises the legs and arms thus increasing circulation.
Click a thumbnail for a larger image and a description of the asana (posture).