Asana & pranayama

Asana & Pranayama are the third and fourth limbs of yoga and probably the two parts of yoga you'll be most familiar with.


Asana is the practice of physical poses... but not necessarily as this translates today. Today we think of an Asana practice as all the poses we do in a movement based class.


Asana translates from Sanskrit as meaning seat. Originally, the only yoga pose that existed was seated and the origin here refers specifically to the seated position used for meditation. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the only specification referred to for Asana is "sthira sukham asanam" - meaning the posture should be steady and comfortable.


Over time this meaning has shifted. The story is, that the more movement monks did the easier they found it to find a comfortable and steady poses for meditation; therefore the more modern physical asana practice developed over time.


Asana and yoga is an ever evolving thing with each generation expanding and adding to our collective knowledge, and handing this down to the next generation of practitioners and teachers. I think that is really special to be able to honour and acknowledge those who have been before us, the discipline's roots in India and also evolve things going forwards.


We can still link our practice back to this original piece of philosophy though; the idea that our practice should always be steady and comfortable. This is a great little reference to come back to, the idea of finding comfort in our movements and not being forceful.


Pranayama is our breath practice. Pranayama is a Sanskrit world made up of "Prana", our life force or energy. You can also translate the rest as "Ayama" to lengthen or extend and "Yama", as you might remember if you've read the earlier blogs in this series, as control or observance.


There are a huge range of different Pranayama practices, some falling into the category of breath control or retention and others fall into the category of breath expansion. Different Pranayama practices do different things, some are calming, some are very energising.


The interesting aspect of Pranayama is the very real effect that working with breath has on our minds. Many of us breathe in a very shallow way, and practicing deep breathing can tangibly reduce the level of stress in our systems, it can create energy to uplift us and many more great things.