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Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sutra 47, 48.
Translated by Shri Brahmananda.

The meaning of the word asana is “seat.” It derived from the grass mat that yogis used for meditation. The word has come to signify specific postures (not just seated) that serve to optimize the flow of energy in both the physical and subtle bodies. 

It is said that the earliest asanas were spontaneous, unstructured movements of meditative practitioners responding to powerful surges of energy in higher states of awareness.  These asanas flowed one to the next, like a sacred dance, and only over many centuries did they crystallize into a formula.

These asanas were then used by ascetic yogis to open the subtle energy channels (nadis) as preparation for the rise of kundalini. The asanas were also used to strengthen the body and improve its flexibility. This enabled a celebration of spirit, leading to a desire for deeper unity with the Self. Accordingly, meditation for long periods of time is developed. 

Each asana works towards freeing restrictions caused by physical, emotional or mental tensions. Each asana utilizes a different network of organs, tendons, muscles, and cells. It supplies them with oxygen, glucose, minerals and energy by means of their blood supply. In this process, specific patterns of neuromuscular tension, emotional disturbances and negative thoughts are released.

The release provided by the asana increases our awareness of the relationship between our subtle and physical bodies as well as our connection to the cosmos in which they dwell. This awareness is facilitated by attending to the flow of breath in the left nostril (Ida) and right nostril (Pingala). Ida activates the right hemisphere and Pingala activates the left hemisphere. By harmonizing these two breaths, conditions have been established for awakening the sushumna breath (left and right nostril are breathing synchronously). Sushumna activates the subcortical brain. At this time, the tripartite brain (left hemisphere, right hemisphere, subcortical structures) is fully functioning. This connects us with our full potential.



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