“Ásana” means “a position in which one feels comfortable” – “Sthirasukhamásanam.” Ásanas are a kind of exercise by regular practice of which the body stays healthy and hardy and many diseases are cured. But ásanas are not prescribed for the general cure of diseases; only those diseases which create trouble in the path of meditation may be cured by the help of specific ásanas, so that sádhaná may more easily be done.
The relation between the physical body and the mind is very close. Mental expression is brought about through the vrttis, and the predominance of the vrttis depends on different glands of the body. There are many glands in the body and from each there is a secretion of a particular hormone. If there is any defect in the secretion of hormones or any defect in a gland, certain vrttis become excited. For this reason, we find that in spite of having a sincere desire to follow the moral code, many persons cannot do so; they understand that they should do meditation, but they cannot concentrate their minds because their minds become extroverted due to the external excitement of this or that propensity. If a person wants to control the excitement of these propensities, he or she must rectify the defects of the glands. Ásanas help the sádhaka to a large extent in this task, so ásanas are an important part of sádhaná.
A list of ásanas is given below. The same ásanas are not necessary for everyone. There are more than 50,000 ásanas; among them a few are named here which are most necessary for the path of meditation. The ácárya will teach particular ásanas to a person according to his or her need.
There are many ásanas whose forms are similar to those of different animals, and therefore they are called by the names of those animals. And there are many characteristics found in animals and birds which are not commonly found in human beings: the physical structures of those animals and birds are such as to further certain glandular secretions, and as a result certain special qualities are developed.
The tortoise can easily retract its extremities. If human beings can also sit in that way for some time, they can withdraw their minds from the external world. The name of that posture is kúrmakásana (tortoise posture).
Rules for ásanas:
(1) Before practising ásanas, do vyápaka shaoca or take a full bath. Vyápaka shaoca must also be done before daily meditation; if ásanas are done with daily meditation then it is not necessary to do vyápaka shaoca separately.
(2) Do not practise ásanas in an open place, because it may result in sudden exposure and thereby you may catch cold. While practising ásanas indoors, attention should be paid to keep the windows open so that air can pass through.
(3) No smoke should be allowed to enter the room. The less smoke the better.
(4) Males must wear a Kaopiina (laungot́á), and there should be no other clothing on the body. Females must wear tight-fitting underwear and a bra.
(5) Practise ásanas on a blanket or a mat. Do not do ásanas on the bare ground, because you may catch cold, and some secretions which come from the body while practising ásanas may be destroyed.
(6) Practise ásanas only while breath is flowing through the left nostril or both nostrils; do not practise ásanas when the breath flows only through the right nostril.
(7) Take sáttvika food. But a person for whom it is difficult to give up rájasika food can for the time being take a small piece of myrobalan (it is better to use the small type of myrobalan), or something of a similar nature, after meals. However, this procedure does not apply in cold countries.
(8) Do not cut the hair of the joints of the body.
(9) The nails of the fingers and toes must be kept cut short.
(10) Do not practise ásanas on a full belly. It is prohibited to perform ásanas for two-and-a-half to three hours after a meal.
(11) After practising ásanas, you should massage your arms, legs and entire body, especially the joints, very well.
(12) After the massage is finished, remain in shavásana (corpse posture) for at least two minutes.
(13) After shavásana do not come in direct contact with water for at least ten minutes.
(14) A practitioner of ásanas should not massage his or her body with oil. If you like you may rub oil lightly over the body.
(15) After practising ásanas, it is desirable to walk in a solitary place for some time.
(16) Just after ásanas práńáyáma is prohibited.
(17) If it is necessary to go outdoors after practising ásanas and if at that time the body temperature has not come down to a normal level, or if there is any difference between the room temperature and the outside temperature, you must cover your body when going out. If possible, inhale a deep breath inside the room and exhale it after coming outside. In that way there will be no chance of catching cold.
(18) It is not prohibited for the practitioner of ásanas to practise free-hand exercise, running or sports, but just after ásanas all these are prohibited.
(19) There is no restriction of nostril for the following ásanas: padmásana (lotus posture), siddhásana (siddha posture), ardhasiddhásana (half siddha posture), bhojanásana (cross-legged sitting posture), viirásana (viira posture), diirgha prańáma (long bowing posture), yogásana (yoga posture) and bhújauṋgásana (snake posture).
(20) For all those ásanas where there is no restriction of nostrils, there is no restriction on food either.
(21) During menstruation, pregnancy and within one month of delivery, women must not practise ásanas or any other exercise. The ásanas for dhyána can be done under all conditions – padmásana, siddhásana and viirásana are the proper ásanas for dhyána and dhárańá.
List of ásanas (for illustrations, see bottom of page):
No one should risk harm by practising ásanas and mudrás without the permission of an ácárya.
(1) Sarváuṋgásana (all-limbs posture):
(a) Lie down on your back. Gradually raise the entire body and keep it straight, resting its weight on your shoulders. The chin must be in contact with the chest. Support both sides of your trunk with your hands. The toes must remain together; the eyes must be directed at the toes.
(b) Lie down in padmásana. Gradually raise the body and rest its weight on your shoulders. Support both sides with the hands. This ásana is also known as úrdhvapadmásana (inverted lotus posture). Practise three times, up to five minutes each time.