Sanskrit Saturday: “Asana” and “Pranayama”

The eight limbs of yoga named by the Yoga Sutras are: the yamas (restrictions), niyamas (observances), asanas (postures), pranayama (breath work), pratyahara (sense withdrawal or non-attachment), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (realization of the true Self or Atman, and unity with Brahman).

Asana and pranayama work together during a hatha yoga practice. One will never be quite complete without the other.

Any of the poses we do in class are considered asanas. Asanas should create dynamic tension in our bodies, be held in a place between ease and effort, and be held firmly without creating unnecessary tension in the body. This is a concept sometimes called “relaxed strength”. We want to find the expression of the posture that feels right to us, not worry about what we look like, but instead consider how we feel.

Pranayama is the counterpart of asana, and it involves controlling the breath. There are many types of breath used during yoga practice, but the most important thing is to maintain a deep, controlled breath at all times. We typically find this breath at the beginning of class and strive to carry it with us at all times.

The breath and the posture go hand in hand. As we find a deep breath in a balancing pose (like tree), we find that we can hold that pose a bit longer. We take deep breaths to stabilize ourselves during “work” poses (triangle, etc) and maintain that strength in the body.

Focusing on our breath has numerous health benefits, which you can read more about here.

If you don’t have time for a yoga class today, set aside five minutes and work on deep breathing, and see how much better you feel.



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